Pellew's Perspectives...Muzillac Prequel
"How Archie Kennedy became an Acting Lieutenant"
By Meanjean


February 23rd, 1797

It has been two and a half months since we departed England. After a brief stop in Oporto, we have spent most of our time patrolling the Spanish coast, with only temporary relief via supply ships. It was not as rich a Christmas as the one last year, for any of us, but we made do with what celebration we could. Finally, however, we have been ordered to Gibraltar and will arrive in port tomorrow.

After hours of official dispatches, and readying the reports I know Hale will desire from my travels, I finally have a moment to pen a more enjoyable letter.

"Dearest Kitty...

I trust this letter will find you well and re-established in London, preparing for challenging theatrical roles. Of course, the excitement of Drury Lane must pale in comparison to your most recent engagement! Perhaps you could create an entire new career of performance on shipboard.

I hope you received the short note I was able to send you from Oporto...one never knows how the mail carries in a neutral country.

The officers are well and would beg to be remembered to you, if I should dare to tell them to whom I write! Bracegirdle has been at my mercy since England, as I have dragged details from him about his wife. It would seem that they met and married in Gibraltar with a scant three weeks of courtship, and he was so concerned with my reaction that he opted not to tell me of her existence. So naturally, I torture him endlessly now. We are in Gibraltar and I shall insist on meeting her.

Brandon says I must be impervious to gunfire, as I show no ill effects of my surgical adventures whatsoever. Cousins added, when he thought I could not hear (bless that skylight) that it does seem to have awakened my sense of humor. Not so; it is only that I show it more now.

Johnson has not had another bout of the fever since Brandon began treating him with that Quinine extract, so I am cautiously optimistic that I have the finest surgical team of the entire British fleet, all unofficially of course! Brandon's father is an insufferable ass who would rail at discovering his son was serving as a lowly doctor, and Johnson is only a medic, according to the Navy. The beauty of this is, no rival captain would try to entice a mere midshipman and a medic to join him!

I do not know what next orders shall await us, and I have had no word of Horatio since returning him to Spain. I worry sometimes, but I remember your description of Don Massaredo, and I confess that eases my thoughts.

It goes without saying, of course, that nothing eases my thoughts of you...oh, Kitty, how I miss you! I cannot be kept busy enough twenty-four hours a day, to keep you from haunting my memory. There are worse ways to be haunted, I suppose. You are in my dreams each evening; and sometimes I still expect to find you awaiting me in my cabin when I retire.

Dear me, I seem to have gone all sentimental. Curse Hornblower! He came on board my ship, and before I know it I am writing in a journal, playing daddy to a mess full of young boys, and courting an actress! We must encounter an enemy soon, so that I may blow him out of the water and re-establish my reputation as the fierce Sir Edward Pellew.

With love and affection,


Edward"


February 24th

We set anchor early in the morning, and dispatches were soon forwarded. Hale did not have time for me until tomorrow, at which point he said he would have much to tell me. It was all rather cryptic.

I also had the pleasure of receiving Mr. McGill and his men back on board; they had returned their prize successfully and had been awaiting us for four weeks now, Hale using him as he saw fit about admiralty.

But I am off today to join Harvey for a pint and a bite to eat, having received the following cryptic note:

Sir Edward,

Understand you arrived this morning. Coincidentally, I just received stores from Spain which I am holding for you. Hale knows, of course, but is caught up in some scheme of Hood's and would keep you on tenterhooks until tomorrow. So if you were to find me at our friendly tavern, just after the noon hour, I think you will be most agreeably pleased with your package!
***

This was interesting, to say the least! I made my departure, permitting Clarke and Brandon to share my boat, as they are off for some more of Brandon's strange herbs. I was so curious about Harvey's missive that I barely spoke two words to them, however.

"Are you feeling alright, Sir?" Brandon asked, noting my frown.

I frowned deeper. "Mr. Brandon, shall you ask me that daily for as long as you remain in my service? I have not had any side effects from that shot in two months!"

He nodded. "Yes, Sir."

I fussed still more anyway. "I do not see what point it makes for you to ask me this, anyway. What could you possibly tell from my answer?"

He hesitated, with a look at Clarke, and then ventured a response. "If you tell me you are fine, then I know you are sick. If you become irritated, then I know you are fine."

I would have laughed if we were alone, but with Clarke's presence I cannot condone impertinence, even when it is the truth. And I scowled mightily.

"You would do best to hold your tongue, Mr. Brandon. You are still a midshipman in title, if not in action, and I will not have you behaving so disrespectfully towards me." I said, very sternly. Clarke looked with pity on Brandon.

Brandon paled slightly, and nodded, realizing he'd overstepped his boundaries. "Yes, Sir. I am sorry, Sir."

"You should be." I cleared my throat and noted that we were approaching the dock. I wished very much to explain that what was acceptable when we were in private conference with each other, was not acceptable around the men. With a sigh, however, I realized that there was no time for such a conversation. "I shall be back on board by evening. Please report to me then."

And as we swept up to the dock, I swiftly moved out, not noting his pale face at my order, or thinking that my words might be misconstrued. I was too full of thoughts of Harvey to give time over to Brandon's worst fears.

***

I hesitated as I entered the tavern, but the barkeep spotted me immediately, and motioned me into the same back room Harvey and I had been sequestered in when last I saw him.

"Ah, Edward, there you are. Come and join our fine Spanish guests..."

I stood stupefied in the entryway.

Hornblower. Kennedy. Together, in the room, rising from the table.

"Captain Pellew, Sir." Hornblower spoke first, saluting. "It is a pleasure to see you."

I found my voice and came forward, my hand out. "A most unexpected pleasure, yet again, Mr. Hornblower." I turned to his companion. "And the same with Mr. Kennedy, although not quite as much of a surprise as the last time I had the pleasure of your company."

He smiled warmly. "Indeed not, Sir."

Harvey, with a grin, motioned to the barkeep. "A pint for my stunned friend!"

I sat in the chair indicated, barely able to keep my eyes off of my young officers, so long absent. "Gentlemen, I do not know where to even begin with my questions!"

Kennedy and Hornblower hesitated, looking at each other, and then Harvey spoke up.

"I happened to run into the lads last evening, just as they were leaving from reporting to Admiral Hale. He knew you were due in this morning, and as I understand it a Midshipman McGill returned to you shortly after you set anchor. But he wished to confer with the gentlemen further, and asked them to hold here until he gave them leave to return to Indefatigable."

I felt a burn at that. "Could he not have told me of their return in dispatches? Why leave me hanging?"

Harvey shrugged. "I saw no point in it, certainly, especially when I found he was not to meet with you until tomorrow. And since he did not request secrecy, well..." He gestured around. "Here we are!"

I turned to Hornblower next. "How did you escape, Mr. Hornblower? At this time of year, with almost continuous storms battering the coastline?"

He blushed. "You give me too much credit, Sir. We were magnanimously released by the Spanish government..."

Kennedy broke in with a broad smile: "On account of Mr. Hornblower's uncommon gallantry and valor..."

Hornblower glared at him. "We were set at liberty three weeks ago; however, due to the weather were held up, and only arrived yesterday."

I turned to Mr. Kennedy with a raised eyebrow... "Gallantry and valor?"

Hornblower blushed deeply as Kennedy continued on: "Aye, Sir, and I believe Massaredo used the word honorable once or twice as well...he is quite an eloquent speaker, Sir."

Horatio looked as though he might implode, and Harvey guffawed loudly. "Mr. Kennedy, if looks could kill, I believe Mr. Hornblower would have you buried already."

Kennedy grinned back. "He'll have to do better than that, Sir. I don't kill easily." And we all laughed then, even Hornblower, who must have sensed himself outnumbered. He was still quite embarrassed though, and I decided to take pity on him.

"Well, Gentleman, I cannot tell you how good shall be to have you back on board my ship, for many reasons. And with Mr. McGill returning as well, we shall have so many officers, we will not know what to do with ourselves!"

Hornblower nodded. "Captain Harvey informed me of McGill's presence; It cannot have been easy establishing a watch schedule, though I was told you had added a couple of new Midshipmen."

I smiled into my ale. "Yes, a pair of impossibly young men named Anderson and Holloway. Good lads, but very green I'm afraid. Mr. Cousins has ended up bearing much responsibility." And unconsciously, I winced slightly, moving my shoulder.

Kennedy, most observant, asked, "Did you hurt your shoulder, Sir?"

Well, they would be back on board soon and would hear the story one way or another. "I'm afraid I was shot recently, Mr. Kennedy..." All three of my drinking companions gasped, and I half-smiled. "...by an old acquaintance of yours, Mr. Hornblower; a Gentleman by the name of DeVergess."

Hornblower's stern jaw set tightly. "DEVERGESS?"

"Yes, we had the privilege of blowing the ship he was travelling on out from under him, and he repaid me by trying to shoot my head off. Mr. Cousins diverted the shot, and Mr. Brandon dug the ball out of my shoulder." I met his eyes. "You gentlemen have missed much in your time away."

Harvey shook his head. "I have come to believe, Edward, that there is no such thing as an easy sail to England."

I raised my glass to him. "Then here's hoping that's not where Hale is planning on sending me tomorrow!"

***
We rounded up the rest of my men at the Inn where Hale had them put up for the evening, and arrangements were made for their return to Indefatigable. I was overjoyed at the prospect of having a fully complimented ship, and spend much of the walk towards the dockyard talking of stores with Harvey.

When I turned back around, I saw Kennedy and Hornblower, standing quietly, looking out into the harbor where Indefatigable rested. And a fine sight she was too, most especially for two young men as wearied with land life as these two would be. I smiled at the backs of their heads, momentarily forgetting myself.

"Glad to have the boys back home, eh, Edward?" Harvey said gently.

And I did not feel inclined to pretend otherwise, as long as they cannot see me. "Quite glad, Archibald, as you are well aware."

He nodded round the corner. "Two more of yours, eh?"

Brandon and Clarke, both with a myriad of parcels, were just rounding the corner. I called out to them, all of my good humor restored.

"Impeccable timing, Mr. Brandon; I believe that we shall just be able to squeeze you in to the boat, unless you've managed to buy out the apothecaries of Gibraltar.

Brandon, who no doubt was confused by my recurring mood swings, simply stared at me. Clarke found his voice. "Beg pardon, Sir?"

Horatio and Archie turned around then, and Brandon nearly lost hold of his packages. "Mr. Hornblower! Mr. Kennedy!" His face lit up at the sight of them both.

With a smile, Horatio stood forward, and helped relieve him of some of the parcels. "Mr. Brandon, good to see you again." Kennedy, likewise, grabbed some of Brandon's precious herbs.

"This shall be a crowded boat indeed, I think."

Somehow, though, it was managed, and we returned to a cheering Indefatigable, for an eagle-eyed Mr. Cousins had spotted our additional passengers.

Horatio was naturally the picture of embarrassed reticence; Kennedy, easy-going and expert at exasperating his friend, reminded me once again of the man he had been before imprisonment; before the return of Simpson.

"Best get yourselves down below, gentlemen, and see if you cannot put together a decent change of clothes. Mr. Hornblower, that Uniform was in sad shape before you departed for England; it is now positively unspeakable."

He looked at me in wide-eyed agony, and then down at his threadbare coat with chagrin. Bracegirdle's laugh bellowed. "Well, you will be needing a new one soon, lad, but in the meantime, I believe I might find something appropriate."

"Well, assuming that to be so, Lieutenant Bracegirdle, I will expect to see all of my officers for dinner this evening, save for Mr. McGill, who has the misfortune to have watch at that time. It is nice, I must say, to say 'all my officers' and have that mean more than four men. Now, if you'll excuse me, Gentlemen..."

***

I had no sooner given Powers orders about dinner than a timid knock came to my door.

Mr. Brandon pensively stood there.

"As you requested, Sir, I am reporting to you."

Huh? Oh, yes, I had forgotten about my harsh words to him this morning. I motioned to him to close the door, and stood at my desk, fingering the pages of my log book, wondering what exactly to say, since I was hardly as angry now as I had been then.

I glanced up at him. His face was impassive, but his eyes gave him away. He was miserable about being here, about having spoken out of turn earlier, and mostly for having angered me. And I remembered where he came from, the kind of hell his life had been before Indefatigable. His father an abusive drunkard, two of his brothers so as well. I AM more of a father to him than he has ever had in his life. Still, he stood his ground, willing to accept whatever I might throw at him. He certainly had no lack of courage. I cut off a smile.

"Mr. Brandon, about earlier this day...I know, Mr. Brandon, that you have become accustomed to speaking to me as a ship's doctor, rather than as a Midshipman. Which is due in no small part to the fact that I owe my life to your skill as a doctor, on at least two occasions. And the truth is, in a conversation in the sick bay or on the deck when we are alone, I do not object to your familiarity. But I cannot have such an example before the men, Mr. Brandon; it dampens my position of authority and could destroy morale. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS?"

His blue eyes met mine steadily, his jaw tight. "Yes, Sir." And he waited for more.

I exhaled. "Do NOT let it happen again." I stood in front of him, and looked him over. "Is that understood?" I said more gently.

Realizing that I did not mean to have him drawn and quartered for his offence, his jaw relaxed. "Yes, Sir."

I nodded. "Good. You'd best get ready for dinner then, Mr. Brandon. Please be punctual."

His relief was audible. "Aye, Aye, Sir...Thank you, Sir." I waved him off, pretending to be absorbed in a dispatch I've already read fifty times, and only let myself smile after the door closed behind him.
***

Dinner had been a jolly affair. Horatio and Archie regaled us with tales of their life with Don Massaredo these past month's, Archie often making a point of complimenting Horatio in some way that would make him blush to the tips of his ears.

I studied them carefully. Hornblower was more relaxed a man than he'd went away as; Kennedy drew him out of his shell, and out of his blue moods. And Kennedy showed no signs of the pallor and illness that still marked him during their brief stay last November. He was every inch a true gentleman, well at ease with life. Only his occasional glance at Brandon reminded me that he had more problems still to be dealt with. He hides it well.

The rest of us, of course, took care to fill them in on our adventures since last we met, with Brandon doing a pretty fair job of embarrassing Cousins, himself! Cousins, who still WILL blame himself for the mizzenmast disaster, looked as though he wanted to crawl under the table when Hornblower said it sounded as though he was a good man to have about in a crisis.

After the party broke up I was still restless. I wished to write to Kitty, but my heart was too full of my own good luck to be able to be eloquent about it. And things are still new enough between us that I wish to be eloquent still! So I headed up on deck, half expecting, and hoping, to find Horatio there.

Find him I did, but he was in conversation with Mr. Brandon. Knowing no shame, I stood to the side and listened in to the last of their conversation.

"I am pleased to hear you have gotten on so well with your studies, Mr. Brandon. You hardly seem to have missed me at all!" Hornblower teased.

"Oh, I missed you, Sir. We all did." He sighed. "And there is still much I must learn! Your diplomacy, for example. I am afraid I try the Captain's patience terribly."

"We all do that sometimes, I think." He breathed in deeply. "Oh, how much I have missed this, Mr. Brandon."

"We are not even out to sea, yet, Mr. Hornblower."

"Even at anchor, I would take this air over that of prison any day. Even if I have to trade a little seasickness for it."

"I might be able to help you with that, Sir..."

"I was hoping you'd say that." Horatio turned to him. "There is something else I wished to ask of you Mr. Brandon. Have you had any luck researching Mr. Kennedy's illness?"

Brandon hesitated. "Has he had any repeated episodes while you were in prison?"

"No, thankfully."

Brandon turned to face his superior officer. "There are two basic types of fits, from what I've read, Sir. Some you're born with; they happen at times with no patterns, and often grow lesser as the patient ages, assuming there is no fatal seizure along the way."

Hornblower looked down. "And the other kind?"

"Brought on by trauma of some sort. A physical or emotional accident might cause it."

"Emotional?"

"Yes, Sir...one doctor wrote of a case of a man who lost his entire family in a tragic fire. From that point on, whenever he saw flames, he would have a sort of fit, Sir."

"I see." Horatio kicked at some ropes. "Neither quite seem to fit Mr. Kennedy."

Brandon nodded. "I was hoping to speak to him more of their history. It might be a bit of both."

Horatio looked at him searchingly. "Did the Captain tell you...anything about a Mr. Simpson?"

He shook his head. "Not the Captain, Mr. Hornblower. But Dr. Hepplewhite had quite a lot to say. That's why Captain got him off the ship."

Hornblower closed his eyes. "I see. So you understand?"

"How does one understand the incomprehensible? But knowing is enough. It gives me much to think about."

I moved forward out of the shadows as if I'd just arrived. "Good evening, Gentlemen."

"Sir!" They both exclaimed warmly.

"A fine evening, Gentleman. I feel quite happy to have a full rotation of officers. Hopefully, Mr. Brandon, we shall not again be forced to use you above decks."

He smiled at me. "Yes, Sir, for all of our sakes!" He moved away. "I'd best turn in; tomorrow Johnson and I are expecting the regular medical stores."

"Take care they don't cheat you now, Mr. Brandon."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

Horatio watched him walk away with a smile. "He's a good man, Sir."

"Yes, he is. Sometimes I must remind myself he is only fifteen."

Horatio shook his head. "He's old for his years, Sir."

"Hm. He's had a difficult life."

"Kennedy told me a bit about Lord Exton while we were in prison. Makes me feel quite guilty for how little I appreciated my own father."

I rolled my eyes. "Only you, Mr. Hornblower, could take someone else's crime and find a way to make it your guilt."

"I know, Sir. It's just that sometimes I look at Mr. Brandon and I think that he's the son my father always wanted."

"Come, Mr. Hornblower, in what way? You are both bright, talented young men who have survived imperfect lives. The only difference is in your talents. You are a sailor, he is a doctor."

"That would be the difference, now wouldn't it?"

"Mmm, and how would we have known Mr. Brandon was a born Doctor if not for your recognition of it? You are not just a sailor, Mr. Hornblower. You are a teacher, and a leader, and a thinker. Your father understood that. He may not have liked it, at times, but he accepted it. Unlike Brandon's father." I shuddered.

Hornblower nodded. "Yes. I cannot understand that. I looked up to my father, and I feared disappointing him, but I was not AFRAID of him, Sir! And I cannot understand how a man can harm his own child in such a manner."

"No more can I, Mr. Hornblower. But Mr. Brandon has been brought to us here, and I suppose that is the important thing. He is at home."

Hornblower looked out toward the harbor again. "Yes. Home is a good place to be."

***
February 25th

Late Evening.

A letter from Sir Edward Pellew to Katherine Cobham:


"My Dearest Kitty...

I am of such a heavy heart in writing this letter that I do not know where to begin. There is very much a part of me that feels I must shield you from my pain in this matter, but I need you, Kitty, I need to be able to tell you those feelings which I shall be forced to hide from my men.

Strangely, had I written this missive last evening, how different my mood and my news! For Hornblower, Kennedy, and the men gone to Spain have returned, healthy and well, released by the Spaniards on account of Hornblower's valorous behavior. Such revelry there was last evening! We only lacked your company, Kitty, to have made my life fully happy. Though what I WOULD have said to Hornblower is beyond me.

This afternoon everything changed. For I reported to Admiral Hale for my orders.

The first half of my conversation with him was merely frustrating, but nothing unexpected. We are to return to England in three week's time, for whatever vague plan Hood had in mind for me has finally come to fruition. Do not think I shall regret returning to England, and thus to you for however brief a period of time (and do not relocate to Portsmouth; I shall be travelling to London with Hornblower and spending some time there in meetings with Hood, if I am to judge Hale correctly). Mr. Hornblower I choose to accompany me for many reasons, not the least of which is that I must see him properly outfitted with a new Uniform!

The second half of the conversation took a strange turn.

"You have a Midshipman by the name of Andrew Brandon sailing with you, do you not, Captain?"

I informed him that I did. And he presented to me the most recent copy of the Naval Gazette, an item circled on the page. It was the one containing details of my shooting, one which Bracegirdle would have put in. It complemented Mr. Reginald Cousins, Midshipman, most strongly, for his gallant actions in saving my life and in cutting down the assailant without further injury to our Brave Englishmen. It went on to also commend him for holding three and a half watches, including overseeing a strenuous repair job, while I was being ministered to. All in all, not a bad little paragraph, quite a boost for the lad, and certain to make Hammond furious.

It was the last sentence that threw me.

"Special commendations also go to the Ship's medical team, specifically Medic Stephen Johnson, of His Majesty's Marines, and Midshipman Andrew Brandon, serving as Ship's Doctor. Mr. Brandon stopped the bleeding and removed the shell from the wound, no doubt saving Captain Pellew's life..."

Oh, Kitty! My thoughts at such a moment! How is it that I failed to tell Bracegirdle of Lord Exton's thoughts on his son serving in a medical capacity? That he was sent to sea to PREVENT his training as a Doctor? No, Bracegirdle, ever fair and always generous, wanted to make sure the young man received proper mention; his proper reward!

And what shall he receive instead? A one-way ticket to Hell! For, as Hale rather bluntly informed me, Mr. Brandon is to be removed as an officer in His Majesty's Navy, and returned home. Exton is furious, apparently his second son, George, the one in the ARMY, saw the notice and pointed it out to his father. And, in what I assume was a drunken rage, he insisted his son be returned to him before *I* could damage him more! And when a Lord insists on something, how can I stop it?

I returned to my ship this evening, and have been an absolute BEAR, scowling at all who would dare cross my path. Hornblower has stuck his head in once or twice, but I have sent him away rather abruptly. And BRANDON, which kills me, gave some of his concoctions to Powers, in case I should be needing them! HE IS WORRIED ABOUT ME?

I know you yourself are unaware of the extent of Exton's behavior towards his son. I confess, Brandon spoke little of it to me, minor comments and a few more detailed ones while recovering from Hepplewhite's attack on him. Bits that I have pieced together in the past year and change we have had him on board. But Cousin's told me of Brandon's condition when he first arrived on board, and Kennedy knows and dislikes Exton himself. And of course I had the PLEASURE of meeting him in Gibraltar once! An odious man! I would not leave him have care of a DOG!

I keep telling myself there must be something I can do, that I have several weeks to figure something out. For Brandon will remain on Indefatigable AS A CIVILIAN, and return to England with us, where his father will meet him. But I cannot see any way out of this.

He does not know yet. I shall send for him soon, for he must not be in uniform when Hale arrives! Oh, did I forget to mention? Hale has decided to travel with us!

How do I tell him this, Kitty? He told me once that when he came to Indefatigable, he found himself SAVED. And I must look him in the face now, and tell him it has all been a mirage, that it is beyond my power to save him.

Kitty, my love, I leave off now, a most miserable man.

Missing you terribly,

Edward"

***
I heard Brandon enter, but did not turn from the windows, staring out at the blackness, searching for answers. I could see his reflection in the glass, knew he had been roused from his slumber by Forbes and brought to me, having hastily dressed himself.

"Sir? You wanted to see me? Shall I get my medical kit, Sir?"

Oh, God, give me the strength to do this!

"No, Mr. Brandon. I am not ill." I cleared my throat, and still did not turn around.

"Have you a change of civilian clothes with you, Mr. Brandon?"

"Yes, Sir...One. But I am not sure it fits any longer." He sounded puzzled.

"If not, we will have to procure you clothing in Gibraltar tomorrow."

"Sir, I am afraid I do not understand."

I closed my eyes. "You are hereby relieved of your duty. You will from now on stay in the cabin next to Mr. Hornblower, as would befit a civilian of your stature. You will sail with us back to England, where you will be returned to...your father's house." I swallowed once, too close to losing my composure. Hastily I turned around and sat at my desk, grasping at my log books, still trying not to look at him. "That is all!"

I could feel his confusion and shock. "Sir, I...what have I done to displease you so? Please, Sir..." His voice broke, but he held composure.

I sighed and finally looked at him, because I cannot have him thinking that he has merited this release. His face was gray, his eyes wide. I thought he might faint.

"Mr. Brandon...your service with me has been nothing short of exemplary. Too exemplary, unfortunately. Your name appeared in the Gazette for saving my life; you were identified as the ship's Doctor. And your father saw the report."

His shoulders slumped then, his head cast downward. "I see, Sir." He whispered.

"I am sorry, Mr. Brandon." I cleared my throat, not at all sure that I could hold MY composure.

He looked up at me slowly. "Must I travel home as a civilian, Sir? Can I not remain as a Midshipman at least until we reach Portsmouth?"

I shook my head gently. "I am afraid not, Mr. Brandon. Admiral Hale has decided to travel with us to England."

"Oh." He swallowed once and exhaled. "Then let me thank you now, Sir, for your kindness towards me this past year. I am...indebted to you."

"As every man on board this ship is indebted to YOU, myself included. You are a fine Doctor, Mr. Brandon."

He gave me half a smile. "I might have been, Sir. We'll never know now." And suddenly the emotion threatened to come over him, and hastily he ran from my office before it could.

I put my head in my hands, near to tears myself. Only when Powers entered, guiding me upward, did I move. "You heard?"

"Yes, Sir. There is no hope for it, Sir?"

I shook my head. "None."

"Sir, shall I...what shall I say to the men? They will wonder."

Yes, wonder they would. "The most you ought to say is that he is returning to civilian life at his Father's request. Anything else he might add is of his own choosing."

"Yes, Sir. The men will all be very sorry, Sir."

The men do not know the half of it!

***

March 15th

We depart for England tomorrow, with one small blessing granted. For some reason, Hale has decided not to travel with me after all. So Mr. Brandon may resume some final duties once we are safely away from Port (I did not wish to have him in uniform should Hale drop in these past weeks). But I have permitted him to remain in the Midshipman's berth, with his friends.

Today I received a reply from Kitty. I do not know how she managed it, but she did.

"Edward My Love...

I have just received both of your letters from Gibraltar, and rush to respond before you do depart. I hope this finds you.

I was all giddiness when I opened your first letter, it made me long so to be on board Indefatigable with you. But I wished to be by your side even more when I read your second. Oh, Edward, what you must have felt! And to have nobody in person who you can express it to! It is just not right.

I am praying for the boy, Edward. For I have seen him to be a strong lad, and perhaps he shall take some of what he learned from you this past year and turn it into a way of surviving. Perhaps just knowing that there are people who value him and care for him shall give him the strength to see him through.

I have never met Lord Exton, but I did once meet Lady Exton at the theater (I did not realize Brandon would have been her son). She was a sweet good Lady, gracious and gentle. Of course, she was not in the presence of her husband, but of an impossibly small lad of ten or eleven, with fair hair and wide eyes. Why, this must have been your young Doctor. I wonder that he never recognized me, but as I was in costume...A Midsummer Night's Dream, I think it was. Anyway, is the Mother still alive? Can perhaps she relieve the situation? A stupid question, I suppose...A woman cannot do much with an abusive husband in this world, as I am too well aware.

Why are not all men like you, Edward? It does seem strange that the Almighty permitted such a scarcity of the good ones.

For you ARE a good man. Stop berating yourself right now, as I know you are. This cannot be helped. Brandon's father is simply a brute with a title, and cannot be fought. Though I know you don't like to hear that. But do not underestimate the importance of your influence in the boy's life, even for a very short time.

With all my thoughts and prayers,

Kitty"

I dropped her letter on my desk and resumed my stare out the window. Word got has gotten around of the lad's circumstances, between Powers' usual murmuring, and Brandon saying his goodbyes. The ship was nearly in a state of mourning. I myself have not smiled since I have learned we are to lose him; I feel lethargic and useless. To the ship I have retreated into my stony, uncaring demeanor that once marked my daily life. I do not bark at the men, nor do I praise them, I simply issue orders and retreat behind my wall.

A sudden knock on my door, and Mr. Kennedy entered.

"Mr. Kennedy, I trust you are well this day."

He nodded. "Yes, Sir. Very well, thank you."

"Is there something you require?"

He hesitated a moment. "Sir, I understand that Mr. Brandon will be forced to leave us. There are many rumors going about, Sir. Is it...definite that he returns to his father? Is there no other family he might go to?"

I wondered that of all the men, it should be Mr. Kennedy that directly confronted me on the situation. "You would be best off asking Mr. Brandon that."

"He will not speak of it, Sir. Indeed, he speaks of little these days, only goes about with Johnson and Clarke, making sure they know how to grind up those powders of his." He paused. "He is having nightmares, though he will not discuss them when he awakes. Cousins spends much of the evening watching over him."

Of course, Kennedy was in the Midshipman's berth with him, and would see what Brandon would not otherwise show the world.

"All I can tell you then, Mr. Kennedy, is that his father is prone to drink and by all accounts to fits of violence, and requested his return."

"And there is nothing to be done? From the Navy's standpoint, I mean."

I shrugged. "The Navy is an outfit of the Government, the government is largely the province of the titled, and Lord Exton has a title. If YOUR father should insist on your dismissal, Mr. Kennedy, I would have no choice but to acquiesce."

He grinned. "Not much fear of THAT, Sir." He sighed again, lost in thought. "However, Sir...since you bring my family up...how long shall we stay in England?"

"Hale told me to be prepared for a month, at least. Lord knows why."

"Then might it be possible, when we first arrive, for me to have a few day's leave? We have a country house not far from Portsmouth, outside Southampton, in fact, and if I send a letter from Oporto, I should be able to see some of them there."

I realized Kennedy would not have seen any of his family since his days on Justinian at least. Four years.

"Naturally, you have my blessing. If we arrive in England as scheduled on the first of April, you may depart on the third, for a period of up to a week. I only ask that you leave your location with Mr. Bracegirdle. He shall command the Indefatigable with Hornblower and I in London. Should we be forced to depart earlier than expected, I would of course require you to expedite your return."

"Of course, Sir. Thank you." Kennedy looked thoughtful, as though he had something more on his mind. With a start, he came to himself and rose. "I am on watch next, Sir."

I nodded and waved him off, wondering just what that look meant. Then, with a sigh, I turned around and resumed my stare out the window.

***

March 20th

Naturally, as we would now wish to be delayed for England, the weather is fair and the wind crisp. We shall be in Oporto tomorrow, without so much as an additional skirmish or sighting of an enemy ship.

Kennedy has given me a letter to set out for England...I noticed he addressed it not to his father but to his brother David. A bit surprising, but I am not about to question him.

I have come out of my shell a bit, been slightly more conversational with the men. After all, we are by and large of one thought in this-that Brandon ought not to be going, and that none of us wish him to. My problem is that I feel I should be able to prevent it, and I hate admitting to the men that I cannot.

Mr. Cousins has the watch now. He has been as quiet and morose as I have. Which is not to be wondered at. I approached him.

"We make good time, Mr. Cousins."

He looked upwards in frustration, as if to curse the wind. "Yes, Sir."

I glanced at him. "How does Mr. Brandon do, Mr. Cousins?"

He was startled, for other than the five minutes with Kennedy, I have not brought up the impending departure of Mr. Brandon to anybody in all this time. But he looked steadily out to the horizon. "Not well, I think, Sir, though he will try to hide it."

"Mr. Kennedy mentioned nightmares. Is he still having them?"

"Yes, Sir. Though not as bad as at first; it's like he's growing resigned to it. He seems to withdraw more."

I closed my eyes. This was very, very bad.

"I am afraid for him, Sir." Cousins said quietly, almost in a whisper.

I knew I ought to snap off some platitude about Mr. Brandon being fifteen, and not a child, and that he ought to be able to take whatever his father might dish out. But I could not. For I am afraid for him too.

"I know, Mr. Cousins. He has been a good friend to you, and you have been through much together. He is stronger than he looks, though. He must survive but a few years before he is able to stand up to his father."

Cousins shook his head. "I am not afraid for him physically, Sir, though that no doubt is bad enough. But he is losing his life's interest, Sir. Imagine what your life would be like if for no good reason someone came up to you tomorrow and told you that you could never go to sea again?"

I shuddered. As much as I loved Kitty, my life without the sea is without meaning. Cousins nodded.

"You DO see what I mean, Sir? Take Drew off this ship, not only away from people who care about him and people he cares about, but take him away from his vocation, from any hope of ever practicing it again, and what has he got left?" He cleared his throat. "The only thing he has said to me this entire time about his return, is that he prays we encounter an enemy and he is killed in action. That frightens me, Sir."

It frightened me, badly, and I must have showed it, for Cousins continued timidly.

"May I be so bold as to say something, Sir?"

I looked at him. What else could he add?

"Sir," He whispered, looking around. "Sir, Drew thinks you're angry with him. You've hardly spoken to him since this order came down, and he's taking it hard. I think he really believes that it's his behavior that's led to this."

Oh, God! "I am not angry, Mr. Cousins. I am ashamed. Ashamed that I can do nothing to help him." I muttered.

He nodded. "I didn't think you were angry, Sir, and I've told him that, but he's past listening anymore."

"Thank you, Mr. Cousins, I shall try to let him know as much of my feelings as I can." The boy had enough to deal with. "Carry on."

"Sail to larboard!" He cried suddenly. "Sir, I think she's French."

"Hands to quarters!" I yelled, the personal crises of my ship pushed to the background.

Except for one last thought. I grabbed Forbes from McAnn's division as they were taking places. "Mr. Forbes, I request you to return below, and make certain that Mr. Brandon does not show his face above decks. At any cost!"

Confused, he obeyed nevertheless. Cousins gave me a brief glance...we were in perfect understanding. Hornblower soon was at my side.

"We're ready, Sir."

"Good, Let's see what she's got!"
***
March 22nd, 1797

After spending most of the day in pursuit, the ship, a speedy little corvette, eluded us with nary a shot fired, so my worries about Brandon throwing himself in front of cannon fire proved for naught. But it did take up much time, and the next afternoon found me in Oporto.

So it was not until the following evening, as we departed Oporto, that I had a chance to seek out Brandon. Perhaps I was a bit reluctant to have the conversation myself, for what comfort can I give him?

I found him at last, on the quarterdeck, staring off the back of the ship. He was a solitary figure, rigid and unmoving, looking towards the lands and the life we were leaving behind.

"Mr. Brandon." I said softly, afraid to startle him.

"I promise not to jump off the back of the ship, Sir, if that's what you're fearing."

I came up next to him. "What makes you think that's what was on my mind?"

"Because Reg has a big mouth, Sir. Why else would you have Forbes pinioning me down in sick bay during conflict?"

I half smiled. "Mr. Cousins is worried about you, Mr. Brandon."

He sighed but kept his eyes on the night sky. "I know. Sometimes I'm worried about me too. Mostly, though, I just don't know what to feel. It's like my life has become sand and is just slipping through my fingers. I keep asking myself what I could have done differently to avoid this."

"Well, you could have let me die on the operating table. Which would have kept your name out of the Gazette well enough."

"I'm serious, Sir."

"So am I, Mr. Brandon. You are in this situation only because your irrational father read a complimentary paragraph on your medical skills. And no other reason."

Brandon's head sank into his chest. "I thought...maybe...you were glad to be rid of me, Sir."

I wanted to make a quip about not wanting to waste all that time I'd put into his training, but my voice failed me. So I reached out and gently grasped his shoulder and squeezed.

He turned to me; I could see his eyes glisten in the moonlight.

"I don't want to go home, Sir!" He whispered hoarsely.

Somehow, I found the strength to talk. "And I do not want you to leave. These weeks have been the most powerless I have ever felt in my life, Mr. Brandon. Even when Mr. Hornblower was missing...and you remember my mood THEN..." This elicited a hint of a smile... "...I felt more in control than I feel now."

Gently I wiped a tear away with my thumb. "There is always a place open for you on this ship, Mr. Brandon. Or on any ship of mine. Your father will not always have control over you. And I cannot think of anyone I would more wish to have as a ship's doctor than you." I coughed lightly. "Especially as I've made a habit of late of getting myself hurt!"

That got a bit of a laugh from him, and I returned my hand to his shoulder, and we stood side by side, looking at the moon retreating in the sky.
***
March 31st, 1797

I have been trying to bury myself in work as we approach Plymouth, trying to forget the events that await us there. The men are not so fortunate, and more than once I have caught sight of a hardened sailor near tears at Mr. Brandon's impending loss. They care much for him, maybe because he has cared so much for them, so much more than Hepplewhite, to be certain. Johnson is well liked, and I am glad to have him, but the truth is Brandon simply had this aura about him, like Hornblower.

Speaking of whom, Hornblower has been quite miserable himself. And Kennedy has been too preoccupied to take his accustomed role of foil to Hornblower's moods.

I found Horatio in the officer's mess, sitting with a book on his lap, frowning.

"What, Mr. Hornblower? Have you found a navigational test you cannot master?"

He blinked at me. "Oh, no, Sir. This is my father's medical text. Mr. Brandon has just given it back to me."

"Shouldn't he keep it?"

"That's what I said, Sir, thinking that he might still be able to study from it. But he said that if his father found it among his things he would destroy it first, and then him. He was laughing when he said it, but..."

I sighed, and sat across from him. "It was probably the truth. What of his other medical texts?"

"He's left them with Johnson, and he's written out duplicate instructions for Johnson and cook on how to prepare the herbal potions he's been using, but he wanted me to have this back, in case I should encounter another aspiring Doctor, I suppose." He shook his head. "I can't imagine I shall ever find another Brandon."

"I'm not that lucky a man, Mr. Hornblower!" I shook my head, and remembered my reason for searching him out. "You are to accompany me, Mr. Hornblower, to London tomorrow. As soon as the boat is secure in Plymouth we shall retain passage."

"London? For how long?"

"That depends on Admiral Hood, but I should say two weeks certainly. Prepare accordingly."

Well that startled him out of his mood, as I knew it would. It is one of the reasons I did not tell him previously. "Sir, why me?"

"Because in my absence the command of the ship falls to the First Lieutenant, and you are my Second Lieutenant. And because I have a year's worth of tormenting to do to you, and because you need a new Uniform." And then I slipped. "And besides, I think Kitty should like to see you."

He looked at me in puzzlement. "Miss Cobham, Sir? Do you plan on seeing her? I did not know you kept in touch?"

This last bit was exchanged just as Mr. Cousins entered in search of Mr. Hornblower with a question. He stopped dead on hearing the nature of our discussion.

Me? I was dumbfounded. Mr. Hornblower had been back with us five weeks and the gossip had not carried to him? I had been certain it would have, but I guess the news had been replaced with the other, more immediate problems we faced.

"Ah, Mr. Cousins. Impeccable timing. Please do explain...things to Mr. Hornblower, if you will!"

"Sir?!?" He was panic stricken.

"You have your orders, Mr. Cousins. No doubt Mr. Hornblower will find the story enlightening! Carry on!"

I beat a hasty retreat. In battle I am hardened. But in love, I am still the original coward.
***
The dawn of the morning saw us setting anchor in Portsmouth. I was up on deck early, Mr. Cousins already there, though it was not his watch. Several other men not normally up were also milling about. And a young, timid Mr. Brandon, showing no resemblance to the strong man he'd become over his time in service, stood to the side, his sea chest readied, his shoulders slumped slightly forward.

I approached him. "Surely you do not expect anyone here so early, Mr. Brandon?"

"If not now, then soon..." His eyes scanned the port, and I lifted the glass. Sure enough, there was that bastard, his father, standing self-importantly at the dock, a carriage behind him. I sighed.

"Yes, he is there, Mr. Brandon. We must ready the ship's boat for you, then, as quickly as possible."

"Please, Sir. I'd prefer not to keep him waiting." He said, in a vain attempt at wry humor.

Hornblower's men were to row him to shore; Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd, with Mr. McGill's help. Mr. Cousins would have liked to do it, except that we both knew that if he did, neither of their composure would be worth a damn.

He came forward now, without words, merely extending his hand. Brandon clasped it warmly. "Take care, Reg. Dan asked me to look out for you, but I guess you'll have to watch yourself now."

"Aye, I'll do that. You take care now, Drew." He swallowed hard, and abruptly backed away.

Others came forward, from Andrews to Morris to Johnson, with quick words as the boat was readied. Horatio laid a hand gently on his shoulder. "I hold that book for you, Mr. Brandon."

Kennedy, brow furrowed, came forward with a nod. Brandon spoke first. "I am sorry, Mr. Kennedy, that our time was cut short. I hope I helped."

Kennedy smiled, though his eyes remained in thought. "You did, Mr. Brandon. I hope to repay you someday."

Finally, I stepped in. "Gentlemen, let us not detain Mr. Brandon. The boat is now ready. He must leave." I faced him, and he saluted me.

"Thank you for everything, Sir."

I straightened up. "It has been a pleasure serving with you, Mr. Brandon. I hope that someday we shall serve together again."

He followed my example gamely, shoulders square, arms behind his back. "I would be proud to do so at any time, Sir. I shall never forget my days here. Give my regards to all those I might have missed, Sir. And to the Duchess!" He whispered, a wicked twinkle in his eye.

So it was with a chuckle that I saw him over board. Only after I was well out of his sight did I feel my face freezing with the hurt I was feeling. Not that it mattered, for he did not look back, any more than a damned man would wish to look on paradise. I picked up the glass again, to see his father pacing on the dockside, tapping his cane on the roadway in his impatience. Tap, tap, tap...

I slammed the glass shut and whirled around. I had no desire to witness anything worse. For if I saw it, I might be inclined to turn my cannon on him.

"I am returning to my quarters, Mr. Anderson. Please see to it that I am not disturbed."

***
The ship was almost funereal that afternoon, as if we'd done battle. When Matthews and the rest returned, Horatio went forward to question them, and I followed.

Hornblower turned to me. "Matthews said the man did not speak two words to Mr. Brandon when they deposited him there."

I turned in surprise. "Nothing?"

"Not a bit! He ignored the boy outright. Motioned for his men to get his dunnage into the carriage. Kind a looked us over, in disgust. Course, the feeling was pretty mutual, Sir. He ends up just glaring at him, and Mr. Brandon, he got into the carriage. The old man followed and they were off"

"Mhm. Mr. McGill, did Mr. Brandon say anything in the boat?"

"I tried, Sir, to make a bit of small talk, asked if he had any old friends he might seek out in Rushton. He said he doubted that's where they were headed, not right away. Apparently they have a country house outside Southampton, and he figured they'd be headed there for a week or two at least. He didn't say much more though."

I sighed, then looked back at Matthews. "Mr. Hornblower and I will be travelling to London, but there has been a delay. Please be prepared to take us to shore first thing tomorrow morning."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

Horatio followed me. "Delay?"

I smiled. "I never planned on our leaving today, Mr. Hornblower. I wanted to see how fast you could pack." His face fell in shock, but I walked on, trying to enjoy my joke but failing.

Once in my cabin, I sank into my chair and picked up the letter I had received from Kitty on my arrival.

"Edward, My Love,

If you are reading this, then you have reached Portsmouth safely and have no doubt dropped off your precious cargo, or are about to. I have inquired around about Mr. Brandon's family situation-we in the theatrical profession often have an entourage of gentry about us. I regret that I have little good to tell of the Brandon family.

Two brothers, George and Wills, are as big drunkards as the father himself. George is seldom there, but Wills often spends time with his father and can be just as brutal. There is a brother Ralph, a clergyman in Kent, who has distanced himself from the family. And of course, the oldest son, Stanton, who is from all accounts a fine young man, but inclined to avoid his father, for the obvious reasons. The daughter, Alicia, is by considered a lovely and talented young woman, but report is that even her inheritance of twenty thousand pounds would not entice a good man to associate himself with her family. At least, until the father dies and young Stanton is the new Lord Essex, which is the only solution I can see for any hope for any of them.

The mother is addicted to laudanum, prescribed to her after she lost her last child when young Drew was about six. It has grown over the years; I think she uses it to escape her husband.

I am sorry to pain you more, Edward. I know you were fond of that boy. I hope I can take your mind off your troubles for a bit. I look forward to seeing you again, for I have ached to be with you.

I can be found at the St. James theater, where I am currently playing in Much Ado About Nothing, or at my lodgings. Do see if you can't drag Mr. Hornblower out to a performance. He can use a little culture.

With love and undying affection,

Kitty"
***
Archie Kennedy and a very down Reg Cousins looked up in surprise as Horatio came down below.

"Horatio? Aren't you away?"

"Not till tomorrow, apparently. The Captain was teasing me, said he wanted to see how long it would take me to pack." Hornblower sat at the Midshipman's table, more at home in this place than in his quarters at the moment. By nature solitary, for once he was afraid of brooding.

"I don't suppose anybody would care for a game of whist?"

Cousins choked back a sob, and Mr. Kennedy placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. Hornblower looked down at him in gently.

Cousins steadied himself. "Sorry, Sir. Just...Drew became quite a whist player while you were away."

Hornblower exhaled. "Then it is I who am sorry to bring it up, Mr. Cousins."

Cousins pulled himself together. "I suppose that's really why the Captain had you packing for today. Kept your mind off other things."

Hornblower shrugged. "Well, there's plenty of time to think now, unfortunately. But we cannot keep up like this, gentlemen. There is a ship to run." He was aware how hollow it sounded, but he knew not what else to say.

Cousins nodded. "Aye, and Drew would not like to have us like this. He liked to laugh too much." He drew his breath in, and looked to Mr. Kennedy, whose mind seemed elsewhere. "You are to return home yourself in two days, are you not, Mr. Kennedy?"

When Archie didn't answer right away, Horatio felt a cold hand at his heart. "Archie, are you alright?"

He smiled suddenly. "Yes, Horatio, do not worry so. I am just thinking."

Hornblower relaxed. "Looking forward to seeing your family?"

"Well, my brother David anyway. And there is much to do, and not much time on leave to do it in."

Hornblower was puzzled but decided not to follow. He took out a pack of cards and began a game of poker, not normally his cup of tea, but enough to occupy Cousins for a bit, and that was the main thing right now.

But what on earth had Archie meant?
***
April 3rd

London was bursting at the seams, the Port abuzz with the preparations of war. Horatio was all eyes, probably never having seen the city in this light before. We exited our boat and I paid our fare, hoping Horatio would not get run over as he stood there gaping.

"Mr. Hornblower! This day if you please. We must secure our lodgings and then report to Admiral Hood."

"Aye, Aye, Sir!" He swirled around and managed to get his feet tangled in his cape, nearly falling over.

"Good heavens, Mr. Hornblower, one would think you had never seen the city of London before!"

He blushed. "But Sir...I haven't!"

"What?" I turned to him, guiding him by the elbow towards my usual Inn, behind the husky man I'd just hired to carry our baggage.

"Never been nearer it than Spithead, Sir."

"Heavens, Mr. Hornblower, how have you made it to nearly one and twenty without spending time in your country's capital?"

"In my defense, Sir, I have not spent much time on dry land in the past four years! And the time I have spent, has been in Spain!"

We arrived to the Spotted Duck shortly, and had a few minutes to freshen up. Then I found myself guiding my young, naïve Lieutenant towards the hallowed halls of Admiralty.

"Horatio, do try and keep your mouth closed and look a bit more like an officer." I muttered, more tense about this meeting than I should care to admit. Palely he nodded, clasping his arms even tighter behind his back.

We were seen to by a minion and escorted to seats. Horatio would have preferred to pace, I think, but one glance saw him seated rigidly next to me.

Which was fine for the first hour. Then *I* began to fuss, with my dispatches, with the buttons on my dress uniform, with my very hands. Horatio, if he noticed it, took care not to say a word. I was accustomed to an Admiral feeling the privilege of keeping a mere Captain waiting, though it never amused me.

But by the time two hours had passed I was fuming silently. Not that Hornblower was unaware of it, for I could feel him shrinking in the seat next to me. No conversation had even been ventured on his part for the past half hour, and if he became any more taut he'd grow another inch.

Finally, after some two and a half hours of waiting, the minion returned. So sorry, but Admiral had been called away. He would almost certainly be back tomorrow, and could we perhaps return then?

I politely thanked the gentleman for his assistance, begged him to let Admiral Hood know we would return on the following day, and let him know where we could be reached in the event he should need to send us any messages. I tipped my hat and walked calmly away with Hornblower in tow, then stood on the steps, Horatio one step behind me.

"God damn that man to HELL" I growled, storming forward with Hornblower, long legs and all, barely able to keep up with me.

I continued with my tirade, all muttered with a grimace through clenched teeth and half under my breath, as I wove skillfully through the crowds. Poor Horatio had the devil of a time keeping up with me, especially as he would say "pardon me" to every stranger he bumped into.

"Sir! Sir!"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower."

"Sir, we passed the Spotted Duck three blocks back, I think, maybe four."

"And your point, Mr. Hornblower?"

"Nothing Sir...except that is where we are staying."

"Very good, Mr. Hornblower. However, it is not where we are going?"

"No, Sir?"

"No. We are headed to the St. James' Theater, where the Kitty...Miss Cobham...will bee meeting us. If you do not object."

"No, Sir, of course not." Panting, he caught up to me as I stood on a street corner. "But wouldn't you prefer to dine with her alone, Sir?"

I half smiled. "Given my mood, Mr. Hornblower, it might be best if I had some help with the conversation this evening. By the way, we attend her performance tonight."

Hornblower got rather pink. "Sir? I must...I don't know..."

"Spit it out, Hornblower." I snapped, walking forward again.

"It's not a MUSICAL performance, is it?"

I turned to him. The poor lad's face was most pitiful, his glance plaintive, his mouth twitching. And it served better than anything else to break my mood, for I howled with laughter.

Horatio now looked wounded. "I'm sorry, Sir, I know it is hard to understand. I wish I could take the same enjoyment in music that others do, but I cannot! It's...it's painful!"

I smiled indulgently at him. "Sorry, Mr. Hornblower. Not to worry, it's your basic Shakespeare. There might be a short musical piece or two, but nothing major."

He relaxed with a smile. "Thank you, Sir. In that event, I should be delighted to see Miss Cobham perform."

"A three month engagement in Spain was not enough for you?"

"The performance was first rate, but the part grew wearying I'm afraid."

I chuckled appreciatively as we approached the theater.

She was waiting for us as we entered, and I felt my heart skip a beat. Her glorious curls were held off of her face by a sort of dusty-pink silk band which matched her dress perfectly. I had not been used to seeing her so well dressed; certainly on ship board she had been confined to sailor's leftovers.

Her face flushed slightly as she saw me. "Edward!"

"Kitty!" And completely forgetting Hornblower, I took her in my arms and kissed her, giddy with the joy of seeing her again. For a moment, there was only the two of us.

A slight cough behind me brought me back to my senses, and I felt my face grow warm. "Er, Miss Cobham, you remember Mr. Hornblower, of course."

She turned away from me beaming. "Mr. Aitch!" She quipped.

And Horatio, recovering his equilibrium faster than I did, bowed low with a grin. "Your Grace!"

The two of them laughed. "Horatio, it is good to see you!"

"Likewise, Ma'am!"

Clearing my throat, I took Kitty's arm, and she smiled up at me. "Shall we to dinner, then, Edward? It will just be the tavern, I'm afraid." And she leaned tightly in next to me

I tingled at her touch. "It is the company that is the important thing." Horatio, more than a little bit embarrassed, stood behind, and I motioned for him to follow us.

And out of the corner of my eye, as I looked back down at Kitty, I could see his indulgent smile. I suppose it ought to have bothered me. But somehow, it was good to know that my relationship with Kitty pleased him.

***
We were finishing our main course when Kitty finally brought up the subject never far from either of our minds.

"No word about Mr. Brandon I suppose?"

I shook my head sadly. "No, and it's doubtful we will have any. I hardly move in the same circles as Lord Exton, and I am probably the last person he would choose to communicate with."

She looked at Horatio.

"Don't look at me, ma'am. As the son of a doctor, I AM what Lord Exton is most repulsed by."

She drummed her fingers on the table pensively. "A few of my friends...patrons of the theater...may try to help, perhaps offering an apprenticeship. " She finished off her one glass of wine. "What of Mr. Kennedy? He is of Exton's class."

Horatio shook his head. "Mr. Kennedy has the opposite problem. His family is far beyond Lord Exton's sphere."

I was startled. "I never knew that, Mr. Hornblower?"

"We did not have much else to talk of these past months than family, Sir. His family isn't just titled; his father is something like the King's third cousin once removed. Fought in the crusades and in every great battle England's ever seen. I doubt Kennedy's father would deign to give Lord Exton five minutes of his time. Assuming Kennedy would ask them to. He tries to distance himself from them as much as possible."

I shook my head. "So why was he suddenly so keen to visit them this week, anyway, Mr. Hornblower?"

He shrugged. "I suppose after eight year's absence, anyone's family might be tolerable."

I had not known it was so long. "Eight years, Mr. Hornblower?" I was aghast.

Horatio nodded, as he wiped his chin. "Yes, he's not seen any of them since he was sent to Justinian , when he was but twelve."

Kitty sat back in disgust. "Why these people have children is beyond me."

Horatio continued. "He does have one brother who'd write to him. David, I think."

My memories stirred. "Ah, yes, that is the one he wrote to. Was hoping to have him meet him at their country house near Southampton."

"Devonshire." Hornblower put in.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Kennedy's family's house is in Devonshire. They also keep a house in London, where they do spend most of their time."

I frowned. "I was almost certain he said Southampton."

"He could never get to Devonshire and back in a week." Kitty added.

Hornblower shrugged. "Nevertheless, that is where is family resides. Perhaps his brother is staying in the Southampton area." Hornblower's face lit up. "Sir, you must have confused his house with Mr. Brandon's. Remember? McGill told us that is where he would be!"

"Ah, yes, of course, instead of returning to Rushton! So I did." Yes, surely that was the answer to that little mystery.

"Well, Gentleman, unless you want me to miss my curtain call, we'd best return to the St. James.

We followed her out, and wove our way back through the crowd. But something persisted in bothering me just bellow the surface, something I cannot quite grasp. Well, it shall come to me.

***
The performance was lovely, breathtaking. Even Hornblower managed to enjoy himself. I could wait for Hood forever, I think, with Kitty for company.

We were waited outside in the mews for her, when Horatio tugged at my arm. "Hm? What is it, Mr. Hornblower."

He nodded to the end of the alleyway, to a street vendor with flowers, and looked at me expressively. Oh!

Somewhat sheepishly I walked down and managed to choose a rather pretty bouquet, I thought, that smelled quite nice and seemed as though it would look well against her dress. I tried to remember the last time I bought flowers for anyone. I do not think even my wife had that privilege, for I courted and married her in the fall and set sail in the Spring. I felt foolish as I returned to Horatio, who was smiling again.

"Do you have a comment, Mr. Hornblower?"

"No, Sir." He answered very seriously, without losing his smile.

I might have chewed him out further, when Kitty exited.

"Well, Gentlemen..." She spied my gift, then. "Oh, Edward...for me?"

"Yes, well...of course they are..." I was blushing again, I could feel it.

"Oh, lilacs, Edward, they are my favorite. And so early in the season for them, too! Oh!" And she buried her nose deep into the fragrant blossoms, and then looked up at me most radiantly. "This is so very unexpected! Thank you, Edward!"

I felt myself breathing faster, overcome with her joy. "It is much less than you deserve, Kitty."

A slight scraping sound then, and I remembered Horatio.

He was clearing his throat, a little pink around the cheeks. "Well, if you both will excuse me, I think I shall return to the Inn. About eight blocks back, is it not, Sir?"

I was pleased and worried at the same time. "Do you think you can find it alright?"

He laughed pleasantly. "Why, it's a clear night, the wind is fair, and I am hardly likely to sail into a nest of Spaniards on the way, Sir." Seeing my hesitation, he continued most seriously. "I shall be fine, I assure you."

I nodded. "Very well, then, Mr. Hornblower, it is eight blocks back on Chambers street, you cannot miss it. I shall see you..." and I came to a sudden, embarrassed stop.

"In the morning, Sir, for I shall no doubt be asleep when you return." He answered smoothly. "Good evening, Miss Cobham. It was a lovely performance."

She offered her hand to him and he took it. "Thank you, Horatio."

Yes, yes, thank you, Horatio. I thought impatiently. Now be gone!

With a gentle, fond smile at me, he disappeared into the evening, and Kitty, still engrossed in her flowers, pulled at my arm. "This way, Edward."

We walked in the fine evening for several blocks, finally coming to a respectable building. "I say, Kitty, your landlord will not have any objection to this?"

She laughed. "My landlady was quite a rip in her day, Edward, an old actress. She married well, was widowed young, and now takes joy in hearing my stage foibles. She's also almost eighty and pretty deaf, and has probably been in bed for hours."

We entered quietly and headed to her rooms on the third floor. Kitty went forward to find a vase for the flowers, and I awkwardly took off my cape and poured myself a glass of port from the decanter. As she disappeared, I went to the window, looking out over the city, the moon most dramatic over head. Strange to think it was the same moon that rose over the Indefatigable, where Bracegirdle would now be in command.

"Edward?"

I turned around to find her standing in the doorway to her bedroom, wearing only her dressing gown. God, how I love her! Trembling, I put the glass down on the table, and went forward, taking her in my arms, kissing her, touching her, freeing her hair even as she pulled at my shirt.

"Kitty, I need you so! I have needed you so badly."

She answered my kisses, her hands finding all of my aches and desires. "I know, Edward. You have me now. I am all yours."

I did not dare pick her up, still favoring my shoulder. But I led her into the bedroom, and down into my arms, wanting to hold on to her forever.
***
The dream was vivid. The blood trailing through the streets of London was a bright red, pooling like puddles of rain. It flowed in a rivulet, to a dark alley near the theater, leading to a cape-covered form slumped at its end. Trembling I lifted the cloak. Brandon, battered senseless, sightless eyes staring forward, and expression of pain and terror on his face. A laugh, then, Lord Exton's laugh echoing around me, but when I turned he was not there. Instead, I found Kennedy, wounded, bleeding, dying, weeping. I found what was left of Hornblower, mutilated, as if by a blast. Styles, Matthews and Oldroyd, blown apart by bullets. Bowles, guillotined. What did it mean?

I turned back to Brandon, his lifeless form so helpless, so small. And Exton's laugh began to mingle with his screams, his pleas for mercy, his cries for help. His cry for me. No. Nooooo!

"Edward!" Kitty shook me awake. "Edward, you are crying out in your sleep. What is it?"

"Brandon..." I whispered. And then six weeks of frustration and rage caught up with me, and without warning I broke down and cried. Wept like a child for the boy I could not save.

"Oh, Edward! My dear, sweet, Edward!" She held me tightly, my head against her bosom, her fingers running through my hair. "Edward, you did everything for him you could."

"Not enough, oh Kitty, it was not enough."

"Shhh." She kissed the top of my head, soothing me in any way she could. Finally, as the tears slowed down, she spoke gently. "Now you listen to me, Edward. When Mr. Hornblower tried to take the blame for Hunter's botched escape attempt, what did you tell him?'

Swallowing, I tried to speak sensibly. "He cannot hold himself responsible for the choices Mr. Hunter made in life."

"Mmmhmm. So why would you take the blame for the choices Lord Exton has made?"

"It's not the same, Kitty. There is an innocent life at stake. If Exton only chose to destroy himself, I would not care a jot."

"And what choices did you make that you would change, Edward? Would you choose not to accept Mr. Brandon as midshipman in the first place? Would you accept him, but not choose him to be a doctor? Would you choose him to be a doctor, but not to save your life? None of these, I think."

"I could have stood up to Hale and refused to let him go." I said, with a sigh.

"Oh, yes. And who would take care of the rest of your men after you found yourself removed from command and commissioned off at half pay for the next forty years?"

I inhaled deeply. "I know your right, Kitty. Know it with my head. But in my heart I feel Brandon's suffering, and it hurts me. And every day I have woken up on the Indefatigable for the past weeks, with my stoic face and stern demeanor, I looked out at men who wonder how I can be so cold to see him leaving. All the while I am dying inside."

"Did Mr. Brandon understand how you felt?"

I remembered a conversation not long ago, with a hurting boy on my moonlit deck. "Yes, thankfully, he understood my position."

"And Hornblower and the other officers? I have no doubt they understand you."

"Yes." I whispered, succumbing to her gentle touch. "They are good men."

"Then go back to sleep, Edward. At the very least, take comfort in the thought that Mr. Brandon, whatever may befall him, knows that you hold him in your esteem."

I closed my eyes, still tight within her grasp, and prayed with all my heart she was right.

April 10th

Seven BLOODY days in London, and still BLOODY Admiral Hood has not seen fit to take the time to see me.

Called away. In an important conference. Unavoidably detained. The final straw being this morning, when I was informed that Hood had gone to Liverpool-Liverpool!-and might be back within a week or two. Perhaps if I came back tomorrow there might be word.

Meanwhile, I have a frigate lolling around in Portsmouth, that ought to be out on patrol, making short work of our French and Spanish enemies. I have sent several dispatches out to Bracegirdle, who has nothing remarkable to report in return. The decks are clean, the sails well repaired, our supply orders filled, and our men starting to grow restless. Sensing a continued delay in our return to some sort of normal duties, I finally had told him to have the men repaint her trim.

And the longer I am in England, and stuck with only my own thoughts, the more the fate of poor Mr. Brandon preys on my mind. Kitty can only do so much to ease my fears. For though I have accepted the fact that I am not to blame for his fate, it does not make me any happier as I know he suffers. Or can I hope for a miracle, and that his father has seen the error of his ways?

Hornblower was awaiting me at the Inn when I returned from another unfruitful venture at Admiralty. I had some days ago given up dragging his unfortunate self with me on these trips. He is so fidgety and anxious he makes my mood worse rather than better. So I sent him off to the tailor, who has assured Mr. Hornblower that he should have a full compliment of uniforms awaiting him in another weeks time.

"Sir..." He said, not even asking me about Hood, as my mood must have been clear. "Dispatches have arrived for you here. One from Bracegirdle, and one hand I do not know, written from Liverpool."

I swore. &%^&*&! Hood! Grasping the missive from Liverpool first, I tore it open. Briefly, Hood mentioned he expected to be back in this area by April 17th, but was uncertain whether he should travel by land or by sea, so perhaps it would be best if I were to return to my ship (!) in the event he should arrive via Portsmouth.

"Mr. Hornblower, we must make plans to return to the Indefatigable . PERHAPS Admiral Hood will find it palatable to meet us there. Your uniforms must wait."

With a sigh, I turned to Bracegirdle's brief report.

"Hm, nothing new, except that they have had a letter from Mr. Kennedy, saying that he plans on returning late the evening of the tenth..."

"That's today, Sir..."

I froze him with a glance. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower, I am well aware of the date. Despite Hood's attempts to have me believe we have been frozen in time." I read further. "...however, there is a possibility, he wrote, that he might be delayed a day or two, depending on certain favorable circumstances, in which case he begs his pardon, but says that we will understand when next we see him..." I frowned deeply. "What on earth is his meaning? Do you know, Hornblower?"

He looked as puzzled as I was. "No, Sir. I must say it seems an unlikely letter for him to have written." He rubbed his jaw. "He has seemed rather contemplative lately, something has most definitely been preying on his mind, but he gave me no indication of what it was."

I shrugged. "Well, with any luck we shall be back on the Indefatigable by late this afternoon, so we shall have answers soon enough. I must secure a boat and square with the Inn."

"Let me take care of that, Sir."

I looked at him in surprise.

"I thought you might wish to call on Miss Cobham before we left."

Kitty! In my frustrations I had forgotten! Whatever is the matter with me?

"Thank you, Mr. Hornblower. I shall be back within two hours."

"Yes, Sir. I will have everything ready."
***
Kitty looked up in surprise when I entered. "Edward, this is an unexpected pleasure."

I kissed her. "Unexpected and short lived, I am afraid. Hood has ordered me to attend him on Indefatigable. Maybe."

"Shall I travel to Portsmouth?"

Oh, it was a tempting offer. "No, Kitty, I cannot take you from the show, it would be most selfish of me to deprive you of your livelihood. Besides, Hood is just as likely to order me back to London tomorrow."

"Or Dublin, or the Massachusetts Bay State in America the way he is going!" She said, wryly. "Do take care of yourself, Edward. Perhaps you shall worry less once on board Indefatigable."

I smiled sadly. "You DO know me, Kitty." I embraced her tightly, and whispered into her ear. "I love you, Lady Pellew!"

She shivered slightly. "And I love you, my dearest husband!" She answered softly.

If only I could never let her go.
***
By the time I returned to the Inn, Hornblower had our chests packed, the bill at the Inn squared, and a man to take our belongings to the dock to the boat he'd hired.

"Well done, Mr. Hornblower. Let us waste no more time."

"Aye, Aye, Sir."

He had learned the ways of London quickly, for now he wove through the foot traffic with ease, more than keeping up with me.

"Miss Cobham bids you goodbye, Mr. Hornblower, and hopes to see you in London again soon!"

"That was very generous of her, Sir."

"I took liberty of extending your regards."

"Thank you, Sir."

Soon we were in the boat, being whisked away, towards a saner destination.

Something I had been meaning to ask him came to the front of my mind.

"Have you a young lady waiting you somewhere, Hornblower?"

He turned to me in embarrassed confusion. "No, Sir! What made you think I had?"

I shrugged. "The first night when we were here, when you rather pointedly noted that flower vendor. It seemed a surprisingly romantic thought for you to have had. And a most effective one, as it turns out." He blushed even deeper. "And really, after the shock Bracegirdle pulled on me, I would not have been surprised for you to tell me you were married with four children."

He laughed. "While away in prison? Hardly likely, Sir. And I am not such a good liar as to be able to hide a wife." He sighed. "I do not think, Sir, that I have ever even been in love."

"So how...?"

He got a warm, far-away look in his eyes then. "My parents, Sir. My father was in general a very practical, sensible man, but when it came to my mother...he loved her so very much. Whenever he was away for more than a day, he always brought her flowers on his return, and she always was so overjoyed that it was as if he'd captured sunlight and brought it into the house." He smiled at the memory, then looked back at me. "That night, Sir, you had much the same look on your face, that he used to have looking at her."

I looked down at my hands, suddenly feeling a bit less foolish for being in love, a bit more allowed to be human.

Hornblower continued. "May I say, Sir, that I am very happy for you?"

"You may, Mr. Hornblower." I looked up at him. "I can only hope that someday you find such happiness for yourself."

"Thank you, Sir."
***
We arrived on Indefatigable just prior to dinner. Bracegirdle, efficient as ever, handed me all reports. The ship had remained well-run, there were no problems with malcontents, despite our proximity to dry land, and no disciplinary measures had been called for.

"Very well done, Mr. Bracegirdle."

He did not answer, and I looked up to see him lost in thought. "Something preys on your mind, Sir?"

He nodded. "Mr. Brandon, Sir. I suppose it would be to much to hope that you heard word of him while in London?"

"Hardly likely, as he is in Southampton."

Bracegirdle sighed. "I regret his loss very much, Sir. If I had not put through that report..."

I cut him off. "If I had told you of his father's nature, you would NOT have. You had only his best interest in mind when you wrote him up. And I had only his self esteem in my mind, when I opted not to have his family circumstances made public. It is not our fault, Sir."

"No, Sir, I don't suppose it is. But I still don't have to be happy about it."

"Good, because neither am I."
***
Late that evening I found myself on deck, wondering if we would see Mr. Kennedy. I was doubly curious about his return, for I have checked in my diary. I WAS right, he DID tell me that his family home was in Southampton. Yet Horatio was equally certain he was of Devonshire! Truly, the man was up to something.

Cousins had the watch, in relief of Anderson, who was down with a head cold. He seemed sad, older than he had been just weeks ago. Anderson and Holloway were a bit too young to be mates of his, and McGill was too old. Horatio, standing next to me, remarked on his demeanor quietly.

"Mr. Cousins is very solitary, Sir."

"Yes. He reminds me of you when Mr. Kennedy was missing."

"It can be a lonely life on board a ship to be without a friend."

"Indeed it can."

A shore boat appeared to be heading out towards us. "Speaking of Mr. Kennedy, perhaps this is he."

"Shore Boat, Sir." Mr. Cousins called out.

"Yes, Mr. Cousins, we've noted it." Hornblower and I headed to the quarterdeck beside him. "They're still to far out to identify. Can you make out the passenger, Mr. Cousins?"

"No, Sir, but it's passengers. Two officers-or at least two cocked hats."

Hornblower raised an eyebrow. "Not likely to be Mr. Kennedy, then. And too late for a social call."

I clasped my arms tightly behind my back. "Well, it shall reach us eventually. A most unusual occurrence!"

And the three of us waited.

***
Flashback...April 3rd. POV of Midshipman Kennedy

Archie Kennedy sat in the coach, being carried speedily away from the Indefatigable and every security he knew. But it must be done. For once, he had an advantage over Horatio and Captain Pellew in handling a crisis, and though taking action alone frightened him, he WOULD do it.

The decision to TAKE action had been surprisingly easy to make. It had its roots in a conversation he had with Mr. Brandon the day that Captain Pellew had been with Hale. A conversation that had changed his life.

Brandon had been pleased to see him in sick berth, welcoming him with a warm smile and such an air of competence about him that his age was soon forgotten.

Kennedy, so used to Hepplewhite's rough use of him, his belittling ways and his snide remarks that reminded him of every failing, was hopeful. And Horatio, he knew, put quite a lot of stock in this young man, and that said something. So, hesitantly, Kennedy inquired about any assistance Brandon might offer for a man prone to fits. And held his breath.

Brandon did not disappoint. He was calm and serious, but gentle, talking of diseases one was born with versus diseases acquired. He talked of men with head injuries, and men whose fits had disappeared with age. And, without ever needing explanation, that Kennedy was the man in question, spent time talking with him about his childhood fits, drawing Kennedy out, getting him to discuss the ailment that has so embarrassed his family. It was an open discussion, the first one he'd had in his entire life about his ailment. And it had remained open until he discussed being sent to sea at age eleven, when his father had decided that to send Archie to school would be to only further ruin the family name.

Which of course, led to the Justinian, and Archie felt the wall going up.

He did not know how much young Mr. Brandon knew about what Simpson had done to him. Certainly Hepplewhite might have said much, but Mr. Brandon had, by all accounts, been on poor terms with the sot. The thing is, there were so few people in his life whom he really trusted. Horatio. Maybe his brother David. The Captain. Yet he had refrained from discussing his violation with even them. Horatio might have understood once. But then, Horatio had never let Simpson have full control over him. And so, if he could not trust HORATIO, how could he trust this young man, this BOY, no matter how qualified he seemed to be to help him?

Brandon had studied him, those blue eyes searching his face for clues. Coming to a decision.

"Mr. Kennedy, perhaps it would be best if I told you first something of my own circumstances."

And Drew told him everything. Of being three years old and spilling his father's drink and having the man nearly strap him senseless. Only his mother's hasty intervention saved him from death. It was his earliest memory. Then, of being five and running in terror from his father on a rampage. The man had settled for his brother Wills, and Wills had gotten even with him by hunting him down and beating him just as badly. There was the point, by the age of seven, when the question was only which one of them would get beaten today, and how badly? Only Alicia seemed exempt. And Stanton, who by the time Brandon was seven, was twenty, and away at school.

That was the worst of it. For as they aged, Brandon had watched his brothers escape. George, twelve years older, first to school and then to the Army. Ralph to school, eventually becoming a clergyman. Wills, the next youngest boy, inherited his father's size and demeanor. Though just six years older than Drew, his father, if he must choose between the two of them to abuse, would choose Drew any time. So by the time that he was ten, the beatings were a way of life, and his mother, who was kept in supply of Laudanum, seemed to drift away. Stanton was disgusted by his father's behavior and kept himself as removed from the family as possible. And just when Drew had hopes of being sent away to school, his father had balked at the expense of wasting an education on a fifth son. And besides, what sport would he have left?

The day he learned he would not be sent to school, after his father had banged him up pretty badly, he'd fled from the house, ignoring the pain, just wanting to get away. And he found himself, full of anger and hatred, at the surgery of Dr. Stewart.

Stewart had been a kindly old Scotsman, who knew, as well as the rest of the town of Rushton, how badly Drew and his brothers had been mistreated. But Brandon had been rude to the man, feeling the need spread the frustration and the hurt, hating his life and everything connected to it. He had expected more abuse, to have the Doctor hurt him also. It was all he knew. But Doc had gently pulled him to the side and held him, soothing him, trying to comfort him. Brandon remembered his gentleness as if it were yesterday. And after the Doctor helped to ease the pain as best he could, the man had offered to let him stay for the afternoon, provided he pulled his weight! And such was Brandon's introduction to medicine.

He became Dr. Stewart's helper, escaping every day from the estate, not that his father particularly noticed. The "sport" more often than not took place in the evening. The tutors didn't particularly care that he was gone either. And so he stayed with the Doctor, learning, taking notes, caring for people. And finding out what it was like to have someone care for him.

Until the day that his father found out, and it all came crashing down. Just weeks shy of fourteen years old, he walked in the door and right in to the strap slashing him across his face. He did not remember much after that, only waking up the next day with his sister weeping over him. And within a week his father dragged him off to Gibraltar, purchasing a spot for him on Indefatigable, giving him one last "gift": a vicious beating with his cane that left no marks where anyone could see them. Better get used to it, he'd said, Captain Pellew will be beating you every day.

There was a real gift though, one Alicia had smuggled into his dunnage. The medical books Dr. Stewart had provided for him.

And of course, the greatest gift of all had been the fact that he'd been sent here. The Indefatigable was his haven, his home, the men on board her his family. Like Dr. Stewart, Captain Pellew and Mr. Hornblower had given him a chance to soar, and he'd taken it, choosing not to look backward at what life had dealt him.

There had been a pause then, and the two men stared at each other, Kennedy stunned. Brandon was not just a boy in similar circumstances. He was a soul mate. He too had once been as low as you can get in this life, and had survived.

And so Kennedy told Brandon everything. From the first violation at Simpson's hands to Hepplewhite's disregard, to Simpson's blessed promotion to Acting Lieutenant right before Horatio joined them. And he detailed the fits, how they seemed to occur in Simpson's presence, as he found out when Jack returned, his commission denied. And restarting after a lapse again, the night Simpson joined Indefatigable. But not another one until he saw Horatio in prison.

"Horatio offered a reminder of Simpson, then. But tell me, you must have been through quite a physical ordeal while in prison. Yet, no problems?"

"No, not even during my time in the Oubliette." Kennedy himself found that puzzling.

Brandon nodded. "Seems to me you've got two separate problems. A history of childhood fits that was probably prolonged by the trauma of what Simpson did to you."

Kennedy looked at him, stupefied. "You mean they might not come again?"

Brandon was cautious. "I cannot guarantee that. There are certain things known to cause sufferers to be stricken. Overly bright lights. Loud noises or things that might make you dizzy. And I cannot guarantee there never to be a reminder of Simpson in your life. But the more time you have to come to grips with what he did to you, the more likely it would be that even if you saw Simpson's twin, you would not have a fit."

"Shall I ever get over it, do you think?" Archie had whispered, not speaking of the fits at all.

Brandon understood; he smiled, and grasped his arm. "You took the first step towards that today, I think."
***
Kennedy sighed, his eyes on the countryside flying by, but not really seeing it. He owed Brandon. For nobody else, not even the Captain, could help the boy. But HE could, because of his family's position and connections. Something he had always despised. But now, finally, it was possible there just might be some good of being a Lord's son after all.

The carriage arrived at Southampton. Kennedy arose, exiting into the sunlight.

His brother David and a short, wiry-looking fair man, not quite yet thirty, stood before him.

"Archie!" To his surprise David grasped him tightly. "You really are alive, you little squirt!"

Archie felt himself getting choked up. He had not really thought anyone would have missed him all that much.

David stood back and looked him over. "You are quite the sight, Archie! Why, you are taller than me now!"

"Not by much!" He laughed, but was pleased. Then his eyes turned to the other man.

"Ah! By your special request, Mr. Stanton Brandon. My good friend from school."

"Mr. Kennedy!" Stanton put forth his hand, and Archie recognized right away those eyes, honest, gentle and piercing at the same time.

"Please, call me Archie." He inhaled, and then came right to the point. "I hope, Mr. Brandon, that you will be able to help me help your brother."

The future Lord Exton looked at him searchingly then smiled. "If it's my brother's best interest you have at heart, Archie, then indeed, you must call me Stan."

And understanding each other, the trio headed to the Inn, where Archie would try to explain the plan.

***
April 4th, 1797
(From the POV of Andrew Brandon)

The dreams were cruel.

Again, last night, he had walked the deck of Indefatigable. Felt the gentle sway of her as she sought out her enemies, those who would dare cross her path. He heard the wind singing in the sails and riggings, could hear Mr. Bowles calling out orders and the men cheerfully but obediently fulfilling them. Sometimes he would find himself in sick berth, grinding potions and laughing with Johnson, or in the midshipman's berth, around a table, listening to the stories of his mates. There never seemed to be a specific incident in the dreams to remark them, just the glory of every day life aboard the ship, and the joy of an unexpected compliment from Mr. Hornblower, or in a bit of notice from the Captain.

And then he would wake up, as he did this morning, and remember where he was.

With a moan, Drew rolled over gingerly, from his stomach to his back, wincing but finding it not intolerable. There had been a new phenomenon that developed during his year away; his father had last night gotten himself SO drunk that he was incapable of beating him! So he had been spared one night's torment, giving him an extra day for old bruises to heal before new ones could be applied. He was resigned enough to know that eventually they would be. But he'd been lucky so far...his father had not yet used the cane, which is what really terrified him. The strap he could handle.

A sudden breeze ruffled the curtains in the window, bringing with it fresh April air. For a moment Drew was reminded of the sails and the ocean breeze, and the tears started. God, he was so homesick he thought he might die!

Funny, he'd felt the same way his first few nights on the Indy, silent tears running down his face as he lay in that strange hammock, with strange mates, in a place he did not know, missing home. As bad as home had been, it was familiar; and there had always been the gentle care of his sister, and of Doctor Stewart. On the Indy there was fear, and a strange language, and that scary man Hunter who he now reported to, and all these things he didn't understand, but was expected to DO! Still, years of taking abuse from his father had made him stoic on the outside, and he hid his terror well.

Cousins and Carlysle had been exceedingly kind to him, protecting him from Hunter, stopping his mistakes before he made them, and encouraging him to seek out Mr. Hornblower. Mr. Hornblower, to be sure, was a grand man, an inspiration, and yet at the same time approachable and warm. Surely he could never have been a frightened young midshipman himself.

But Drew's fear remained for a while. Because of the stories George had told him. And because the night they had stayed over in Gibraltar before he'd been sent on board, his father had beaten him with that cane for the first time, pounding him over and over again, each blow searing. And all the while the man had laughed, saying he'd better get used to it, because Captain Pellew was known to be fierce. Captain Pellew did not like incompetence. Captain Pellew would have him beaten JUST LIKE THIS every day. So most of his first week on Indefatigable, he had watched the man with terrified eyes, his stomach sinking whenever he approached, and his relief palpable as he would walk by without noticing him at all.

But Drew was a sharp lad, though young; he celebrated his fourteenth birthday shortly after joining the Indy. And whatever stories his father had tried to pound in to him were contradicted by the realities of life on board. After two weeks, he understood. The men did not so much fear Captain Pellew as revere him. He was an object of awe and respect, but not of abject terror. Nobody wanted to disappoint him, for his tongue was caustic and the look he could give you could pierce your heart. But in two weeks he did not see one crewman taste the cat, and not one boy...himself included...was beaten. Or tied in the riggings.

And then Christmas happened. And fierce, terrifying Captain Pellew had provided every one of his men with an enormous Christmas feast, out of his own pocket, as the men went around saying. And then he took the watch himself, to give all his officers the night off. When word had come down that after dinner a Midshipman would be required to join the Captain at watch, his heart had sunk, for he was the newest and would doubtless be chosen. But Lieutenant Hornblower had looked round the midshipman's berth, had met his eyes for a second. His gaze had been soft, his smile understanding. And he had announced that HE would take the watch.

Later that evening, when they discovered the snow and the Captain had given them a few moments to enjoy it, he caught something else. The way the Captain looked at his men, in particular Mr. Hornblower. Pride there, when he knew it could not be seen. Like he had Mr. Hornblower's whole future mapped out, and liked what he saw.

And that was when the change began. Just getting through the day without getting beaten was not enough. Instead of behaving to avoid all attention, he found himself craving it. He wanted Mr. Hornblower's praise at a lesson done correctly. He wanted to have Mr. Bracegirdle compliment his signaling skills. Mr. Hunter was a lost cause, he knew, but even Mr. Bowles had once praised the speed with which he readied his gun port during an exercise.

He hoped that maybe someday the Captain would take notice of him, but hadn't really thought it would happen. That was reserved for the extraordinary men, men like Mr. Hornblower. And Drew knew he was at a disadvantage. Though he was smart, he was small for his age. And like his brother Stanton, he'd inherited more than his mother's demeanor. His brother had not exceeded a height of five-foot eight and was still slender, though not weak; Drew figured that was probably his own fate. He'd never be the first up the riggings, like Reg, or able to move cannon balls about as if they were candy, like Dan could. No, the Captain wasn't likely to notice him.

And then he had. Turning that piercing gaze on him when, of all things, he requested he work with Hepplewhite in the sick bay! Observing his demeanor around the old drunken doctor, and liking what he saw! Giving him encouragement before being pressed into operating for the first time, making him believe that he could do it. And the look he'd given him when it was over...the kind of look Drew had believed was reserved for the Hornblowers of the world. "Well Done, Mr. Brandon. Very well done indeed!" It was burned into his memory. He was supposed to return to Captain Pellew to report after he cleaned the sick bay. It should not have taken more than an hour, but was an hour and a half before he could get there. Because he had spent fifteen minutes weeping with the sheer joy and relief of someone who had been saved.

Drew fought to compose himself, for soon his father would go clattering down to the breakfast table, and he would be expected to be there. Besides, his brother Stanton would be coming today, bringing two friends, he had written in the letter they received yesterday. Most uncharacteristic of him, but Drew looked forward to it. It might divert some of his father's attentions away from "the sport."

So he put the memory of that look, that compliment, away with the rest of his memories. He took them out when his father charged him, shut his mind to the pain and the indignity by playing out every proud look, every impressed stare or bit of hard-won praise that the Captain, or any of the officers, had ever given him. Someday, he intended to take the Captain up on his offer to return to duty, if he could survive.

What frightened him is, this was only his fourth day home.

***
April 5th...1:15 AM (POV Brandon)

That evening Drew lay still in bed, on his stomach, recovering from another beating and a bad shock that left his emotions in turmoil.

The beating had not actually been that bad, he thought, wiping his eyes. His father had hardly been drunk. Instead of a rampage where the man flailed wildly, it had been controlled and purposeful, though done in secret. Apparently not wanting to engage Stanton's censure, or the censure of his guests, he had waited till Drew had retired, coming later to his room, saying that if Drew let out one scream, he'd go get the cane instead. So Drew had taken it, and his father left, his lust for violence satisfied.

No, it was not pain but shock that had him in its grip now, the shock and the strangeness of it. For Stanton had arrived just after breakfast with his two great friends, the younger sons of the Lord Bridgeleigh.

David and Archie Kennedy. Archie Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy! In resplendent Midshipman's uniform and with his blond hair gleaming in the light. What in God's name was he doing here? And how could he face him?

His father had been beyond pleased. For Lord Bridgeleigh was one of England's finest peers, a nobleman, a relative of the King, and even if they were only YOUNGER sons, it was quite a coup to have them in his house. Imagine...the DEVONSHIRE KENNEDYS staying there!

Drew had not known what to do with himself. Should he acknowledge Mr. Kennedy, or would that enrage his father?

Mr. Kennedy had taken the situation in hand by greeting him warmly, saying how good it was to see him looking so well (was he blind?) and mentioning that he should miss having the company of another esteemed nobleman on board in the future. It would leave him "forced into conversation with those who were social inferiors!" (Like Mr. Hornblower, his best friend? What the devil had gotten into him this day?)

His father, of course, had preened. No matter how little he liked his youngest son, to have one of Lord Bridgeleigh's sons treat him as an equal socially meant something! His importance was being RECOGNIZED. Of course Mr. David and Archibald Kennedy were welcome to stay for the remainder of the week! He could certainly extend his hospitality. His wife was ill, of course, and seldom left her room, but Alicia was more than capable of standing as hostess.

Alicia! She had entered, and suddenly the look on Archie's face changed. For a moment, Drew saw the laughing, happy man who was so well liked on board the ship. Archie stared at Alicia mesmerized. And then it was gone, and the stranger returned. Alicia turned to Drew, an expressive look on her face when she realized that Mr. Kennedy had been a shipmate. Dear Alicia, trying so hard to protect him, being just as much at a loss as he was. Still, she'd coped, as she always did, making arrangements with the household staff to prepare guestrooms and handle the ordering of additional food.

Stanton had been jovial, teasing him a bit, asking him to tell some shipboard stories. No, damned if he would! He could not speak of Indefatigable in this place. But then, he didn't have to, for his father turned immediately to Archie and begged him to talk of Indefatigable, instead.

And Archie did. Sort of. But the ship he described was about as unlike the one Drew held in his heart as his father was from Captain Pellew! Kennedy described a ship ruthlessly efficient and cold. The men he referred to as having little more value than the beasts in the hold. Pellew was suddenly flinty-eyed and cunning, without pity or remorse. A grand story-book captain, but nothing like the real leader Drew knew. And Hornblower was made to seem obsequious, annoying, plotting to try and keep Archie out of the way so he could rise instead.

Drew had moved uncomfortably at this statement. He wanted to cry out, decry Kennedy, ask him what on earth he was thinking of? But he also wanted to live, and so he held his tongue rather than insult his father's vaunted guests.

Where was Archie Kennedy? The good man who'd been through so much, who had confided his soul to him so he might be helped? He did not know who the man sitting in the library was!

The three young men and his father had dismissed him shortly afterwards, with his father cautioning him not to even think about leaving the grounds (as if the staff would let him). So morosely he'd strolled through the garden, trying to make sense of it all, finally sprawling under a tree.

Alicia had found him there. "That ODIOUS man was not a friend of yours, was he, Drew?"

"I thought he was."

"He's the worst boot-licker I've ever seen! Winding Father in with all those phony stories. I MET your Captain Pellew, and he's not at all like what he described. He's such a fine man."

Drew had turned to her, in real emotional pain. "Please, Alicia, do not speak of it, I beg you! I cannot remember Indefatigable now!"

She had swallowed and nodded, and then sat down on the ground next to him, putting her arm around his shoulders.

Drew knew it wasn't easy for her, any of this. She was almost twenty now, and a beautiful young woman, intelligent, accomplished, sweet-tempered, and with a fortune of twenty-thousand pounds to boot. By all rights she ought to have had her pick of suitors, ought to have been able to find a husband who deserved her. But with such a family? So many incidents caused by Wills and George, the conduct of their father, and the effective absence of their mother, all of this made them laughed at in society. Yet her father grew desperate to marry her off, seeking out any man who might do. Drew feared she'd be forced into a bad marriage to a man like their father. To see her end up as their Mother had, suffering and addled with narcotic drugs, it would be the last straw for him. But so far her father refused to seek past their own social strata, and had yet to find a man in that class weak and dissipated enough to take her.

The evening had passed in similar fashion to the afternoon, with Archie putting down everything Drew held dear about his ship, mocking it, and making up stories of glories that did not happen. It all made him sick, and he had retired as soon as was polite.

When his father had slipped into his room some three hours later, waking him to be beaten, he almost had not minded it. He had hoped he would beat him into oblivion so he could not see how far his friend had fallen, not remember THIS loss on top of all others. For if he could be so wrong about Archie Kennedy, what else might he have been wrong about?
***

April 5th, 1797 1am
(From the POV of Archie Kennedy)

Archie leaned against the tree and vomited.

The plan. He had to stick to the plan. It was the only hope, and damn it, it was working, if only he could convince his stomach to cooperate, if only he could withstand several more days of Drew looking at him like he was the beast he made himself sound like.

Kitty Cobham, he thought wryly, would have been proud of his performance, as the weasily youngest son of privilege. Exton had bought it. Even David, who was in on the plan, had looked startled at some of the things that came out of his mouth. He was hurting Drew, he knew, but it was all for a purpose and it would be fine in the end. Only once had he slipped, and that was when Miss Brandon had entered the room. Lord, he had not expected her to be so beautiful! Archie shook his head. He had to stop those thoughts. He could not risk Drew's well being with some sort of puppy love for a woman who would never look twice at the likes of him, anyway.

But he could not take another night like tonight, he was certain.

For Miss Brandon had given him the room right next to Drew. And, his mind racing with thoughts of how far he should take things tomorrow, he had been wide awake five minutes ago when he heard Lord Exton pass in the hallway and into his youngest son's room. Heard the muffled voices, and then the sickening sound of the beating as it began. He had not heard Drew cry out, except for a muffled gasp, a swallowed whimper. He wanted to charge in there, strangle the man as he stood, grab the boy and run for the shore. Which would have been fatal, of course. But how could he be expected to lay there and listen? Good God, how long could it go on?

Then he'd felt his head buzz, and fearing a fit, he'd risen quietly, grabbed his cloak, and headed downstairs for the terrace and out into the garden.

The air had cleared his head, and he battled the memories of another boy, beaten down and whimpering. Simpson hadn't stopped at the beatings. But neither had Simpson been his father, someone who was supposed to be a source of love and security. He would not let Drew be dragged down to the depths he had reached. He would not let it happen. "I will not let it happen!" He said, fiercely, under his breath.

The sudden footfall startled him. "What is that you said, Sir?"

Miss Alicia.

Startled, he rose quickly. "I...beg your pardon Miss Brandon...I..."

She stood before him, a shawl wrapped around her, the moon shining off of her pale hair, which fell in a long braid across her shoulder. She looked fierce, though. No-nonsense. "You were saying you would not let it happen. What is it you are referring too?" She asked sternly.

Archie could only stand there, unable to answer as he wished to, too startled to answer in the character he was playing.

She smirked. "As I thought. So many people say they won't let it happen. So many people, pretending to be so concerned. But when it comes right down to it, nobody ever does want to get involved." She tossed her head, her braid whipping around to her back, as she looked back at the house. A candle extinguished in one room

"You can go back upstairs now, Mr. Kennedy. It is over. Your sleep will not be disrupted any longer." She looked at him with such disgust, such loathing, and he could not bear it.

"Miss Alicia, please..." He grasped her arm. "I will get him out of here. I will!" He hissed, fearful of being overheard.

Her eyes flashed fire. "If you are so concerned with his well being, why did you run away out here? I am only a woman, I cannot stop my father in a rampage. You could have!"

Archie shook his head, both hands on her arms, facing her. "And then what? I stop it tonight. What of tomorrow? What of when I return to my ship? There is no law on my side that would permit me to take him from this house without your father's permission and you know it!"

He saw the angry tears in her eyes. "Then the law is wrong and can be damned!"

Archie exhaled, and automatically reached up to her face. "The law is very wrong. But I cannot damn it. I can only work around it. Your brother Stanton, my brother, and I, we will convince your father to send him back to Indefatigable willingly. A few more days. Just a few more days."

She blinked at him. "You'll never get him to do it." She whispered.

Archie smiled at her. "Yes, I will. For I am one of the Devonshire Kennedys Miss Alicia, however much I've fought that in the past. Your father cannot resist us. And as my father would say, never underestimate a Kennedy."

Her scrutiny deepened, but was less hostile. "You really think you will succeed?"

Archie took a deep breath. "Yes, with the help of our older brothers. And, it goes without saying, your discretion."

The anger sparked back for a moment. "There is nothing I would not do for Drew, Mr. Kennedy. I have watched him suffer his entire life. I watched my mother give up. I always swore I never would. I do not appreciate your insinuating that I cannot be discreet in this matter."

Archie smiled even wider. "Good. Keep that anger up. You must loathe me as much as you did the man I pretended to be this afternoon."

She backed up a step. "I still do not know you're NOT the man I saw this afternoon." Looking back towards the house, she began to move away. "I must check on Drew, Mr. Kennedy. Good evening."

Archie bowed low, and felt his heart racing as she walked away. She was something else, alright, full of fire and emotion. Well, not that it mattered to him, anyway.

Not much.
***

April 9th

The past week had been a special kind of hell for Drew. Being around Archie, having him talk of Indefatigable constantly but in ways that were offensive to him, made him ill. He devised little comfort from the fact that his father had been too busy with his stately guests to pay him much attention. Since that night when Archie had first arrived, there had been only one more beating, and that had been two days ago.

Last night he had not dreamed of the ship for the first time since his return home. But instead of bringing relief, his dreamless sleep had left him feeling bereft, as if he had lost her for a second time. Archie's cold tales of the search for prize money by mercenary officers seemed to be erasing his memory of the ways things actually HAD been.

He'd escaped again, curled up under that tree in the garden, trying to see the ship in his mind. Alicia's gentle voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Quiet day today, eh, Drew." She sat down next to him, her skirts billowing out around her.

He gave her a far-away smile. "The calm before the storm I fear. After all, our guests cannot stay forever." He shut his eyes again. "Then he'll make up for lost time, I'm sure."

Alicia bit her lower lip, as if she wished to say something, but held back. "Maybe not. Maybe it will be better."

Drew raised one eyebrow at her, in an unconscious imitation of Captain Pellew. "Awfully optimistic suddenly, aren't you?" He gazed away from her, out into the garden, not seeing it really, and not caring. It was getting harder to care about anything anymore.

Looking at him carefully she sighed. "It grows wearying to always be fearing the worst." She smoothed her hair back from her forehead, and then folded her arms in front of her. "Drew, what sort of man is Mr. Kennedy?"

"I assume you mean Archie and not his brother? I do not know any more, Alicia. He has not been here the man I thought he was on..." He swallowed. It hurt to say the name. "He's not the man he was at sea."

"What did you think of him before?"

Drew smiled. "It's strange, Alicia. I barely sailed with him. But in some ways I know him better than anyone on that ship. We are very much alike, you know. Or at least, I thought we were."

She turned towards him. "What do you mean, you barely sailed with him? I understood that he had been to sea since the age of twelve, and on...your ship for several years?"

Drew looked to the sky, but was seeing a place far away. "Mr. Kennedy was lost in an expedition long before I entered the navy. He was in several prisons before ending up in the same one with some other men, men I did know. He spent a few days with us last November after the whole group was released from prison in order to perform a rather heroic rescue." He turned to her with a smile. "The Archie Kennedy I knew, Alicia, was the sort of man who willingly returned to prison because the Lieutenant he served with had given his parole. Despite the fact that his conditions at prison included spending a month confined to a hole in the ground. That was how honorable he was."

Alicia was wide-eyed. "But where was that story, Drew? Why does he not tell us these things?"

Drew scowled. "Perhaps because that Lieutenant...his best friend...was Mr. Hornblower, a social nobody, a man who father would not bother to say 'excuse me' to if he bumped into him on the street."

Alicia grew very pink then. "Drew, don't...perhaps Mr. Kennedy has reasons for speaking as he does."

Drew looked at her quietly. "I cannot fathom what reason he would have for creating such an entirely fictitious account of life. But then, no more can I understand what he is doing here at all." He sighed. "Anyway, the long and short of it is, Mr. Kennedy only returned to the ship the day before father ordered me back. If you had asked me previously, I would have said he was one of the kindest, loyal, most honorable men I've ever known. He's been strong, stronger than he's ever realized, because he's a survivor, Alicia. The things that have happened to him would have destroyed a lesser man." He let his mind drift off to what Archie had been through. "I admired him for that. I know sometimes just surviving is enough." He sighed deeply and leaned backwards, drawing his knees in towards him. "I would very much have liked for that man visit me. I do not know who this man is." With effort, he got up, and extended his hand to his sister. "We had best go in and get ready for dinner."

Alicia hesitated, then took his hand. She seemed hesitant about something.

"Come, Alicia, what is it you are not telling me? You know I can read you like a book."

She managed a smile. "It is nothing, Drew. Will it satisfy you if I tell you I only wish for what is best for you to happen?"

He looked puzzled, but pleased, for a moment fully bringing his mind to her. He reached over and kissed his sister on the cheek. "I have never doubted that, Alicia. You have always been there for me."

He said nothing more as they headed to the house, but knew that he would only wish to one day have the opportunity to do something for her in return, that could make such a difference in her life, as she had made in his.
***
Drew felt heavyhearted as he headed to dinner. Archie would be leaving tomorrow, he believed. Returning to the Indefatigable. Leaving him behind.
And though the Archie he'd spent the past week with bore little resemblance to the man he admired, he would have given anything to be returning with him.

I cannot bear it. I CANNOT, he thought, over and over again.

But bear it he must, for his father would have accepted no excuses for missing dinner. And there was no point in baiting the man.

Sitting at the table this evening, he marveled anew at Kennedy's behavior. He could only attribute the fact that he was behaving as though he were, to put it bluntly, an ass, on the unfortunate influence of his older brother. He, too, was stiff and pompous, but since Drew had no frame of reference about David, he did not find that so extraordinary. Except that he was truly a strange friend for Stanton to have.

His brother was also changed. Suddenly he seamed eager to please his father, almost humoring the man. But this was not so entirely unexplainable, for Drew felt it probably to be an attempt to protect him.

He barely contributed two words of conversation, which no doubt pleased his father. And so when Alicia left the table, and the port went round, Drew expected to be dismissed as "too young."

But his father, ever toying with him, decided he should remain present. "And you WILL have a glass of port, BOY." He had growled.

Drew acquiesced quietly, acting downcast and chastised, as would most please his father. Really, he was indifferent. Ever since Hepplewhite's attack on him with the gin bottle, he had learned that he COULD handle a social glass of spirits, though he did not have a taste for them, and doubted he ever would. But he could not act indifferent, because that would only enrage his father more. So he pretended to be obedient but disturbed, convincing his father that this was yet another punishment.

Immediately on Alicia's departure, Kennedy started in.

"I must say, Lord Exton, I will miss having Drew on board very much. Not much class on that old barge."

Drew felt his face burn, and wished he liked Port better.

His father made a noise like "harumph", pleased at the inference, displeased, no doubt, to be reminded of his son's failure. For from his point of view, that is what it would have been.

Drew noted Archie and David exchanging a curious glance. Then Archie fired the broadside, before Drew could realize he was under attack.

"'Tis a pity, what they're saying. Oh, I'm certain it isn't true, but you know how the gossipmongers like a story. It's a black mark, for certain."

His father slammed down his glass and rolled a malevolent eye towards him. Drew felt his stare, felt the anger radiating from him, and felt his breath coming faster. He looked plaintively at his friend. Archie, whatever are you DOING to me, he thought.

His father spoke, low and dangerous. "Black mark? Just what is it that they are saying of Andrew, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie hurried on. "Oh, you know, that he's a quitter. Couldn't handle the Navy. All that. Rot, you know. I'm certain you merely removed him for more important purposes. Still, that is what it looks like." Archie met his father's eye. "Quitting."

Good God, Archie, why don't you get up out of your chair and hand him the cane yourself? Nervously he picked at the dinner napkin in his lap.

His father leaned back, and tossed off the remainder of his port in one gulp, then tapped for it to be filled again. Drew did not dare meet his eye.

Stanton broke in then. "Rot. Drew was every bit as capable as any other man on that boat, I bet."

Archie hurried on. "Oh, I know he was. But I was there. Those who were not, may not have such a fortunate idea. It does look bad."

His father scowled at him. "All this because you kept up that stupid Doctoring nonsense, boy. I thought I beat all that out of you before I sent you on board! I guess I didn't beat you enough!"

Drew closed his eyes. If he lost it, God help him, if he started CRYING at the dinner table, adding that embarrassment to his father's complaints, his life would not be worth two pence. No, he would not be that lucky; his father would never actually kill him. Just beat him to the limits of his sensibility every day until he turned twenty-one. Six years. No, he could not cry. He opened his eyes but kept them fixed on his plate, holding himself steady, his hands pulling at the napkin out of sight, twisting it forcefully.

Archie suddenly laughed out loud. "Doctoring? Good lord, is that why you had him removed from the ship, Lord Exton? Why, surely he didn't tell you he was working as a DOCTOR?"

And Drew looked up sharply. Archie was all mirth and joviality, smiling engagingly as he continued. "Drew must've decided it was an easier life to come back here instead of having to do actual work on Indefatigable, you little scoundrel!" He playfully tossed his own napkin towards him, but Drew just sat there.

His father did not know which statement to question. "Are you telling me, Mr. Kennedy, that Andrew was NOT acting as ship's doctor?"

Archie scoffed. "Waste a valuable young midshipman such as your son in such a useless job? Captain Pellew would ask Mr. Hornblower to act as cook first! Of course, that would be more suitable for HIM, but Drew, a Doctor?"

Stanton turned to his father. "You see, Father, I told George it was nonsense!" Looking back to Archie, he continued: "There was this piece in the Naval Gazette which identified Drew as ship's doctor, saving Captain Pellew's life."

Archie laughed, deeply and loudly. "I cannot believe anyone thought that might be true. Why, you know how that came about, don't you? Drew WAS there, of course, he very bravely assisted in holding down the Captain while the operation was performed. But it was that medic, a silly marine named Johnson, who actually dug the ball out. Lucky he didn't kill the Captain, but no doubt it was Pellew's superior strength and breeding that kept him alive. Still, it did have to be written up, and Lieutenant Bracegirdle couldn't bear the idea of giving credit to a MARINE for heaven's sake. So he wrote up Drew."

Drew met Archie's eyes for the first time since the first day the man had been here. His eyes...what was that he was trying to tell him?

His father exhaled slowly. "Why did your Captain not tell me of this? I was most explicit with Admiral Hale as to my reasons in removing Drew from service."

Archie shrugged. "No doubt Hale held it back from the Captain. He believes a man should obey an order without question. You wanted your son back, therefore he ordered Captain Pellew to comply."

The second glass of port was tossed down into his father's belly, and suddenly refilled. Exton ran a fat finger round the glass's rim, and did not look up. "I cannot believe you didn't enlighten me, ANDREW. No doubt you felt disinclined to do the hard work required to be a successful officer, and felt this would be the easy way out."

Drew said the only thing he could, though he knew it was for no purpose. "I'm sorry, Father." And held his breath, his stomach quavering.

Archie jumped in then. "It would serve him right if you sent him back with me!"

Suddenly, Drew felt the world right itself again. As if a mirror that had been shattered into a thousand pieces suddenly rose up and rejoined itself, returning a true reflection. And as the pieces flew together and what had been disjointed became whole, he saw Archie Kennedy...his friend, Archie Kennedy...trying the only way he could to save his life. Tears threatened again, but for a different nature, and he steadied his breathing, trying to maintain composure.

Archie continued.

"I can assure you, Captain Pellew would look very unkindly at this incident. I wouldn't want to be in Drew's situation should that happen, to learn that a midshipman had practically deserted. You know what Pellew's reaction would be, don't you, Drew?"

Drew inhaled and called on reserves he didn't know he had. He had always been a terrible liar, but here he would have to lie in order to succeed. "Mr. Kennedy... please..." He whispered, pleading. "If the Captain found out, it would be worse than what happened to Mr. Cousins for sleeping on watch!" His voice sounded tremulous and emotional, just the right way to sound for a young man in terror. That, at least, was not a stretch, though not for the reasons his father would hopefully read.

He just caught the hint of a twinkle in Mr. Kennedy's eye, for they both knew that NOTHING had happened to Mr. Cousins. Stanton finalized the conclusion.

"Really, father, I don't see any other option if we are to save our name. Drew must go back and serve out his time at sea, no matter what he fears."

His father had the last of the port, and then made his decision. "Andrew. Look at me!"

Drew swallowed and met his father's eyes, cold and uncaring as they were. No need to pretend to be afraid now. In this exchange his whole future rested.

"You shall return to Indefatigable with Mr. Kennedy."

He gasped, hoping to indicate fear. "No, father, please..." He whispered, his voice breaking.

"SILENCE! You shall return to your room and prepare your trunk. I trust you still have your uniform?"

Drew hung his head, not daring show his father his face. "Yes, Sir." He mumbled.

"Good. You are dismissed."

Drew rose hastily from the table and made for the doorway.

"And ANDREW!"

He froze where he stood, knowing what was to come, dreading it, but seeing no way out of it.

"Yes, father?" He held tightly to the door handle and looked back at him.

"You may expect me in your room in three quarters of an hour." His father drummed his fingers on the table, his eyes moving pointedly to his cane where he had rested it in the corner.

Drew felt sick, nausea rising in his throat. So it was to be Gibraltar all over again. He closed his eyes, frightened, very very frightened, but stronger now for knowing that it was only one more night. One more night.

"Yes, Father." He whispered, and continued out the door

***
Archie Kennedy was frantic. Moments after Drew's departure from the room Lord Exton had excused himself, and Stanton had followed, the worry plain on his face, perhaps hoping he could talk his father out of his planned assault. And Archie, as soon as Exton was departed, had bolted himself, out to the garden, away from David's pleading... "Archie...wait."

Not this! No, this was not his plan. Oh, to be certain, Exton had fallen in with sending Brandon back exactly as he thought he would. Archie knew that the idea of being embarrassed in society was anathema to him. As long as he believed that it would HURT Drew, and they had done a convincing job of making Exton believe the Indefatigable to be one step up from prison, Exton could be counted on to ship the boy off.

But the beating was unforeseen. Archie had stupidly thought it would be enough of a punishment, in Exton's mind, to send him to Pellew's justice. And so in three-quarters of an hour...no, half an hour by now...Drew would be subject to a wrath that Archie had brought down on him. He had thought the other beatings were bad enough, but this? He had seen the pallor on Drew's face, a face that moments before had seen a glimpse of hope in his life, though he hid it well. No, this beating scared Drew, and therefore scared him. But what did he do? Did he intervene? That would blow everything up. But how, how could he sit back and let it happen?

He'd blown it. Ruined everything. He should have known he was not like Captain Pellew or Horatio. He could never be such a man, never have things work out the right way. And he wasn't much of a Kennedy either. No, he did not have that kind of luck on his side.

He sat on a stone bench and stared into a small decorative pond, tears flowing freely down his face. The footsteps approached, and he figured it was David. "I've bollixed it up again, David. I never should have attempted this. Why should I succeed in this any more than I have succeeded in anything else in life? I must finally admit myself to be a total failure at life. Horatio should have let me die in prison."

A soft hand fell on his shoulder. "I could not disagree more, Mr. Kennedy."

He whirled around. "Miss Alicia!"

She sat next to him before he could rise, and took his hands in hers. "Mr. Kennedy, you have saved my brother. Whatever happens tonight..." She gulped. "Tomorrow he returns with you."

Archie felt the tears welling up again. "This is not how I wanted it!"

She smiled ruefully. "I doubt it's how he'd have preferred it. But you did not see Drew this afternoon. He was drifting away, Mr. Kennedy. Loosing everything that he had become while he was on Indefatigable. He was numb, losing touch with life, because that was the only way he could cope. I feared not for his safety, but for his sanity. I saw him heading down Mother's path." She shook her head. "You've not seen Mother. She spends her days with a bottle of laudanum in a dream world. I could not bear for that to be Drew's end."

Archie blinked. "But he is to be tortured...How can I let this happen? How can I stand by while he is so brutalized?"

Her earnest gaze burned in to his soul. "I am sorry now, Mr. Kennedy, for the hard words I had for you that first night you were here. You are, indeed, every bit the man Drew told me he believed you to be."

"I..." He paused. Whatever did she mean? What could Drew have told her other than that he was an afflicted weakling who'd permitted himself to be sodomized? "I do not understand what good Drew could have possibly said about me."

She gently stroked his cheek, wiping away his tears with her kerchief. "Only that he had believed you to be one of the most generous, honorable men he'd ever served with, and one of the strongest as well."

Drew had said THAT? Of HIM? Knowing what he knew about Kennedy, he could say such things? "He exaggerates."

She smiled. "I do not think so. Drew in general is both a good judge of people and at the same time a terrible liar. And he called you a SURVIVOR!" She held his hands again. "It is why he was so terribly puzzled by your behavior here."

Archie bit his lower lip. "It doesn't matter, anyway. I still cannot protect him this evening."

She shook her head. "No, you cannot. You have done what it was in your power to do. Now it is in Stan's hands."

Archie gasped hopefully. "Stan will be able to prevent this?"

Alicia looked down. "It is doubtful. But he may be able to lessen it. He is plying father with drink now."

Archie turned. "But won't that make it worse?"

She shook her head. "Not if he gets him drunk enough. Besides, I think he's hoping to slip him some laudanum. That would be the best solution; the drug shall confuse him enough so that he remembers beating him more than he actually will have." She rose suddenly. "Walk with me, Mr. Kennedy? I find I cannot sit here and wait."

So he rose, and linked his arm in hers, and they took a turn around the garden, not saying much, both of their hearts were too heavy for that. Archie also was under another powerful sensation. He remembered how Miss Alicia had looked at him this evening, as if she might care for him. Of course, she was caring for a man who didn't exist, at least not how he'd been described to her. Could such a woman ever care for the man he actually was?

She lifted her head suddenly, seeing the shadow in the window of Drew's room.

"It's starting..." She whispered. And suddenly she buried her head in Archie's chest, grasping at his coat.

Archie wrapped her arms around her tightly, hoping to shield her from as much as possible. "Pray for him, Alicia. It is only one more night."
***
Drew knew not how he got through that night, but opening his eyes the next morning he knew he'd survived, although still in such pain that it was as if the abuse had just taken place, instead of having ended eight hours earlier.

He had tried to convince himself, as he'd nervously paced in his room last evening, that this was a simple trade-off, to take this beating in return for being sent back to the Indefatigable. Objectively he could say he would walk through the gauntlet if it meant returning to sea. But it was hard to be objective when he had been in his room waiting his father's approach.

The man had arrived promptly, drunker than normal, and with the cane firmly in his grasp. Drew was ashamed to remember he'd backed into a corner and actually tried to plead with the man. Ashamed because it humiliated him for absolutely no purpose. Indeed, it only increased the man's enjoyment of the torture.

It had been fifteen minutes of sheer hell, with Drew actually screaming out loud towards the end. And suddenly the two of them had collapsed together; his father from the effects of drink and laudanum, and he from the searing pain.

He did not remember being lifted into bed, but at one point could hear the hushed voices over him, Alicia's soft hands gently washing his face, Mr. Kennedy holding his hand as he squeezed. Archie spoke first.

"This is it. No matter what happens, I will not let that man near him again. I will gladly kill him first."

David countered. "Exton is out cold, I tell you. He'll not even wake up before tomorrow afternoon, and you will be long gone."

Archie stroked Drew's head gently, not noticing he was awake, for Drew found it necessary to lay very still. "Long gone? How? Do you really think he'll be in any condition to endure the coach ride from Southampton to Portsmouth? All those hours of jostling in a coach?"

Stanton's voice spoke low. "Archie's right. There's no way he'll be fit for travel. Nothing's broken, but he's in agony. We must keep him here another day."

Alicia, tears in her voice, pleaded. "He MUST go. He cannot spend another night with father. You know he intended to do far worse than even this, Stan; it was only the fact that you drugged him that kept it from happening."

David's voice was wavering. "Whatever SHALL we do about your father, Stan?"

Stan sighed. "I had planned on suggesting a trip to Edinburgh, to see our Uncle. With Drew out of sight, it would have been easy to get him to go."

"Edinburgh? You would keep company with him so far?"

Stan's voice was firm. "I would insist on it. Archie, you said yourself you are not certain when Indefatigable sails. Father must not have any chance of changing his mind." He sighed again. "I shall have to try and keep him on Laudanum through tomorrow."

Drew had drifted off then, on another wave of pain. And he had just woken up now; it must be around nine o'clock. He thought he might be able to move, if he took it slowly. But his father would certainly be asleep for several more hours; he would take every spare moment he had to recover.

One other thought came to his head. A memory of those last seconds before his father entered his room. He had been looking out the window, and seen two forms embracing. Archie and his sister. He had not had time to process the thought at the moment, but now he gave it all consideration. And it pleased him greatly. Archie undervalued himself, Drew knew, but the sad reality was that as a younger son, his options of marriage within his social sphere were limited. Drew knew he would feel that oppression someday himself.

On the other hand, his sister, though most advantageously provided for, had the disadvantage of her family reputation. Decent suitors, at least from Drew's idea of what constituted decent, had been few. Actually, they had been none. For he was silly enough to hope that his sister would find a good man who loved her and would not be living off her for her fortune. Archie, though not independently wealthy, had a career. If he could love her, there were few better men. And Drew was fairly certain that even if his father got wind of the fits, he would still not object. He was a Devonshire Kennedy, after all.

Simpson, though...his father must never, never hear about that. It did not affect Drew's opinion of his friend, but his father would draw a different conclusion. Drew would not let that knowledge get out. Ever.

With a sigh, he realized he must move. It would take him time to get ready. Pain or not, he would be leaving this house today; he WOULD be sleeping this night in his hammock on board the Indy, with Cousins snoring across from him. Or he would die trying.

Taking a deep breath and biting his lip, Drew rolled over on to his back...

***
Archie sat unseeing in the library. He did not know what this day would bring. He felt lost, alone. And he would be late returning to the Indy. Certainly he had written to Mr. Bracegirdle that that might occur. But Archie still hated the idea of disobeying the Captain, even with good reason.

Alicia touched his hand suddenly. "Mr. Kennedy, do not take it so hard. You will get him out of here. I have never seen my father so skillfully handled as you have done. I doubted you once, but I assure you I will never doubt you again."

Archie tried to smile at her. "You are too kind, Miss Alicia. For I know your father is awake."

She nodded. "Aye, but keeping to his bed, unable to hold down food and too sick to lift a glass, let alone a cane." She shivered, and Archie held her hand. It was nice, that. She met his eye suddenly and he was flooded by guilt as she spoke, blushingly.

"Mr. Kennedy, would it be acceptable to you for me to write you on board Indefatigable? I think, in this circumstance, my father would approve."

He wondered at the doubt and the fear he saw in her eye. How could she doubt that he would give everything to have such a woman care for him? At the same time, how could he, such a man, consider saying yes?

"Miss Alicia...you do not know me. If your brother were at liberty to tell you all he knows of me, you would not ask to bestow me with such an honor."

Her eyes welled with tears. "What is it I need to know more than the sort of man you are?" She drew her breath in sharply. "It is because of my father, isn't it? You would not consider me acceptable for being his daughter."

Archie's blue eyes opened wide. "No, a thousand times no!" He took her hands in his. "Miss Alicia, when your brother is awake...ask him...if he thinks I am a proper suitor for you. He will tell you the truth. For however much he might esteem me as a brother officer, or feel indebted to me as a friend, he would not sacrifice YOU. And he knows I am not a fit man to call on his sister."

Archie rose suddenly and walked away from the table. He did not know where he meant to go, only knew it must be out of the same room from her, for he could not bear to know he had thrown his chance at love away. But he stopped in the door suddenly, as Drew turned the corner with effort. Drew, standing stiff and pale, but straight, in his uniform, his chin determined even as his eyes spoke of his pain.

Archie gasped. "Good God, Mr. Brandon, whatever are you thinking?"

Alicia rose suddenly to her brother's side, but he waved her off.

"I believe, Mr. Kennedy..." He said, through tight lips. "...that the coach leaves from Southampton at four o'clock. We must be on our way by One, then. We have but half an hour to prepare."

Archie gaped. "You are not serious!"

Tightly Drew replied, "Do I appear to be joking, Mr. Kennedy?"

Stan and David returned to the dining room then, and their astonishment was quite evident.

"Brother, get yourself back to your bed immediately! You cannot last such a journey."

Without wincing, Drew pulled his shoulders even straighter, and clasped his hands behind his back. "Stan, I believe I know best what I am capable of. The trip will be uncomfortable, but not nearly so much so as staying here. I am stronger than I look. And I am returning to Indefatigable today."

Archie looked back and forth at Stan and Drew. David merely shrugged. To be sure, Drew looked determined, and Archie could not blame him. Suddenly Stan smiled at his younger brother.

"You've become quite a fine young man, Drew. And you are the Doctor, after all. So if you feel you can make the trip, I will not stand in your way. Father has signed all the papers. I shall tell him, that despite your pleading protests, we have forced you to be ready to leave."

Drew nodded. "Whatever you must tell him. If you need me to pretend reluctance out loud I will do so. But I will go to Portsmouth this day, even if I have to walk there."

Stan reached out and tousled his brother's hair, then motioned for Archie and David to follow him.

No sooner were they out of the room than Drew collapsed into his sister's arms, holding back a gasp of pain.

"Drew! Oh, Drew, you are NOT fit to go!" She whispered, holding him.

"I must, Alicia, cannot you see that?" He pleaded with her. "I shall die if I stay here another day. Either father will kill me, or I shall die of despair."

She pulled him gently to a settee and he half laid down on it, his head resting in her lap as she stroked his head.

"Rest while you can, then." She sighed, not at all certain that she ought to permit this. "We will hear them approaching, and you must rise quickly."

He winced, letting her minister to him while she could. It would be an arduous journey, but he would survive. He would show Archie that he too could be strong.

Alicia took advantage of the moment alone with her brother. "Drew, there is something I must tell you. I think...that I could possibly find myself falling in love with your Mr. Kennedy."

Drew smiled peacefully. "I know. I saw the two of you in the garden last evening."

"It does not bother you?"

"Not at all. I cannot think of a better man for you Alicia, and to top it off I believe father would consider him acceptable. That father and I could agree on a man worthy of you is nothing short of remarkable."

She continued stroking his head gently. "He...Mr. Kennedy...seemed to think that you would find him unsuitable for me, Drew. He said you knew things about him that, though they would not prevent you from considering him a friend, would keep you from considering him a man good enough for me. Do you know of what he speaks?"

Drew frowned, searching for the right words for both Alicia and Archie. "Yes, I do." How on earth did he explain this to her? "You can tell Mr. Kennedy that you spoke with me, Alicia. Tell him I said that I would not tell you the particulars of his situation, but that I despite those circumstances, nothing should make me happier than someday calling him my brother."

Alicia blushed at how he put that, but it was a happy blush, the blush of a woman who was in love already, caution be damned.

They remained there for some fifteen minutes, with Drew reserving as much strength as possible. So when the gentlemen returned, they found him composed, standing by the window, awaiting them.

Stan spoke quietly. "Drew, father wishes to see you before you depart."

Fearful, Drew did not move.

"He's not capable of harming you; he's so sick he cannot get out of bed. But remember you must be afraid of returning to the Indefatigable. Look a bit more cowed than you actually are. And look a bit more HURT, will you?"

Drew would have laughed at that, but he did not have the strength.
***
Three hours later, he was huddled into the corner of a coach, doing anything in his power to keep his mind off of the agony he was in.

Archie had realized his game not long after they'd arrived in Southampton, for he'd nearly fainted when they exited the carriage father had sent them in. After reviving him, Archie had read him a blistering riot act, scolding him in a very close replication of what Captain Pellew might have said had he been there. He backed off only on seeing how close to tears Drew was.

"I wanted to go HOME, Archie!" He pleaded.

So they sat next to each other now, the coach carrying four others. He felt every lurch, every jolt in the road. One hour down, far too many to go.

Archie squeezed his arm gently. "Try and get some sleep, Mr. Brandon," He whispered.

So Drew dozed off and on. Finally, at one point he and Archie were the only passengers left.

"Another two hours only, Drew." And Archie had moved over, leaving him room to lay down, which he did with a sigh.

Archie, on seeing he was not drifting off again, spoke. "I cannot believe that you told your sister that you would be delighted for her to write to me."

"Father gave his permission, did he not?"

"Are you kidding? He just about fell on my neck. He is absolutely besotted with the man he thinks I am."

Drew half smiled. "And my sister is besotted with the man you are, Archie."

He protested. "No, she is besotted with the man you have made her believe me to be! What happens when she shall learn the truth?" He added bitterly.

Drew painfully raised himself up to look Archie in the eye. "What truth is it you speak of? The fits? She is the daughter of a man of violence and a tendency to drink, and a woman who's addicted to laudanum. Do you really think that she should consider YOU afflicted?"

Archie looked away. "I am not speaking of the fits, and you know it."

Drew eyed him sharply. "Do you have a sister, Archie?"

"No. There is just William, David and myself."

"If you did, and she were to fall in love with me, would you object?"

Archie slowly shook his head. "No, why should I?"

"Because I am a failure. I have been beaten down and violently abused most of my life. I have been tortured and tormented, and have fought demons of my own. And I still needed you to save me from my own situation."

"That is not the same, Mr. Brandon!"

"Is it not? What Simpson did to you was abuse of the most vile nature. And you have survived. And you saved ME, Mr. Kennedy. Why do you not see that as an accomplishment? You are no more to blame for what happened to you than I am for what has befallen me."

Archie gulped. "I shall have to tell her, someday. I cannot accept her love while wondering if she would reject me if she knew..."

Drew nodded. "That is as you choose. I would not force you to anything. But I can tell you, Archie, that if I believed my sister to be the sort of woman who would reject you for your past, I would never have risked hurting you by encouraging her."

There was a violent jolt in the road and Drew cried out, and gently Archie eased him down again on the seat. "Take it easy, Mr. Brandon. Captain Pellew will have my head if my rescue attempt only results in your burial at sea!"

Drew tried to smile. "Thank you, Archie."

Archie sighed once more, staring out the window. "If only you'd not praised me so highly. How can I live up to such a reputation?"

Drew closed his eyes. "It is nothing Mr. Hornblower would not have also said, and he would have believed it as much as I do."

Archie let out a half-laugh. "Oh, Horatio is as crazy as you are."

Drew felt sleep coming over him again. "How many men, Archie..." He whispered ... "Will it take to believe in you, before you believe in yourself? Me, Mr. Hornblower, the Captain, your brother..." He was asleep before he could finish the listing of the Archie Kennedy fan club.

Archie patted the boy gently on the shoulder. Yes, perhaps he was not quite the failure he'd always believed himself to be. And certainly this time he was successful in his goal, for he was bringing Mr. Brandon back where he belonged. But he did not feel like imposing on this hurting boy, by letting him know that the one man whose opinion mattered was not Horatio, or the Captain, but his own father, Lord Bridgeleigh.

And that would NEVER happen.
***
April 10th, 1797

Finally, at close to eleven that evening, they arrived in Portsmouth. Archie roused Drew gently, and they stood outside now, awaiting the man whom Archie had hired to transport their belongings.

Archie looked with worry at Drew. That boy needed bed, and quickly. Though he did pick up his head at the smell of the sea air, he was fading fast. "Take us to the dock, please. We will be hiring a shore boat to return to Indefatigable."

The crusty old man spat. "Ye'll not be findin one, I'm afeared. Tis mortal late to be takin one out. A capting, maybe, an admiral fer certain, but two green mids? You'd best go t'the inn for the night."

Archie saw the look of disappointment on Drew's face. After they had come so far? "Take me to the docks!" He said more firmly, and held a coin up in the air.

They wove their way along towards where the shore boats could be found, Archie occasionally holding up Drew as he would stumble, wishing he could only pick the boy up and carry him, but that would arouse comment.

Once they reached their destination, the old man took his coin and disappeared, while Archie scanned their situation. Not an attendant in sight; nobody looking to make a lengthy row outward. Off to the side, a couple of men regarded him, but looking at his uniform and his rank, they quickly disappeared again.

One boat was coming in now, and Archie hoped that maybe here they might persuade someone to row backward.

Alas! The boat was rowed by a woman and an old man; a twelve-year old girl with them. Still, Archie held out hope, for the woman was evidently long of the sea life and might feel for him.

"Ma'am, this evening, is there any chance you'd be willing to take two Midshipmen back to their boat? I would be willing to pay a crown."

Drew raised his eyes at such extravagance, as did the woman. "Ye must be late from leave, then. Afraid the Captain will hide ye? Well, let him, I say. Me husband, who I just came from visitin, is a hard worker on a good ship, but I know most of the lot of ye officers aren't worth it. C'mon Da, c'mon, Violet."

The young girl eyed them curiously. She had dark braids, almost black, and a fringe of heavy hair on her forehead over what Archie could see by the lamplight were unusual blue eyes. Those eyes were not looking at Archie, though but at Drew, looking at him carefully. "Mam, that boy is sick." But her mother turned away.

Sure enough, Drew was teetering precipitously, and Archie gently caught him, leading down to a seat on the trunk. "There now, Mr. Brandon, we'll get back to Indefatigable tomorrow, we will," he said, trying to sooth him. The question was, how did they get to the Inn tonight?

Archie did not see how wide the girl called Violet's eyes grew when he called Drew's name. But she ran back and grabbed her mother's arm, and whispered something furiously to her. Suddenly the woman was back.

"Which one o'ye be Mr. Brandon, then?"

Drew raised his head up. "I am, ma'am." He whispered hoarsely.

She looked him over. "Mr. Brandon of the Indefatigable?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Abruptly the woman nodded. "Get the boat, Da, we're going to row these gentlemen back to their ship."

Archie was puzzled but overjoyed. Drew merely leaned heavily against him, muttering a quiet, "Thank god."

Soon they found themselves being whisked away. Drew lay huddled down in the boat, sleeping again; the girl Violet watching protectively over him. Their saviors were silent, however; he soon discovered that "Da" seemed hard of hearing and spoke little. The woman kept her eye on her job. Only Violet spoke occasionally, fussing over Mr. Brandon in a rather cute way.

The woman's eyes softened at the sight, and it seemed to loosen her tongue. "Who be you, Sir?"

Archie was startled. "I am Mr. Kennedy." He was not sure if that name would mean anything to her or not.

"Aye, me husband's spoke of ye, once er twice." She smiled again, and Archie realized her husband must be on the Indy.

The woman proudly glanced down at her daughter. "She's got a proper crush on that boy now. Not so surprisin; Vi's awful close to her Da."

Archie was puzzled. "Which man is your husband?"

"Name be Morris. Ollie Morris."

"Yes, of course, he is a Carpenter's mate. A very good man."

They were fast on the Indy now; Archie knew that with the ship at anchor the officer of the watch was liable to be nearly alone on deck. He wondered who that would be. A strangely-pitched voice called out, "Shoreboat ahoy!"

"Aye Aye." Mrs. Morris answered brightly.

Archie went to hand her the crown, but she shook her head. "Mr. Kennedy, ye be gone, I think, when it happened, but that boy there...he saved me husband's life, he did. Took out is pendix, er somesuch, when the other Doctor woulda let 'im die. Ollie told me today, 'e did, bout how the boy was sent off, an' his father a bad man from all accounts. Ye brought 'im back. I'll not take the money, then. Tis only way I can repay 'im."

Archie smiled down at Drew. His father had a saying that you made your own luck in this world. Perhaps he was right after all. "Thank you, ma'am. I shall explain it to him when he is more awake."

Drew rose groggily, as the boat came along side the frigate. Before he was fully himself, Violet shyly reached up and kissed him on the cheek, then blushed and ducked down next to her grandfather.

Archie almost laughed at the expression on Drew's face; the boy did not know what had just happened. "I'll explain it on the morrow, Mr. Brandon."

Suddenly Archie saw tears in his eyes as he contemplated the steps leading up the Indy's side. "I...cannot...do...it."

Archie stood behind him strongly. "Yes, you can, Mr. Brandon. For I will be right behind you, and I will not let you fall. Lean on me, Mr. Brandon."

And so it was that their progress up the side was slow, every step torture for the young man, and only made because the boy understood what awaited him in the end. Archie knew whomever had the watch must be beside themselves with anxiety.

Suddenly the top neared, and a pair of strong hands assisted Mr. Brandon on to the deck.

Cousins cried out joyously. "Drew! It IS you!"

Archie found his feet on the deck beside him, and saw that Captain Pellew and Horatio, astonished beyond belief, were the sole other witnesses to their arrival. And for Pellew to admit astonishment...

Drew pulled together every last bit of strength he had, squared away his shoulders, and saluted smartly. "Andrew Brandon, Midshipman, reporting for duty, Sir." He handed over an envelope. "My papers, Sir."

Pellew took the papers...the ones that said that Lord Exton was permitting his son to return to Indefatigable, and read them with a hand that shook ever so slightly. Swiftly he folded them up again and handed them to Mr. Hornblower. For a quick second, Archie saw the Captain glance around, as if looking for someone. But truly, the five of them were alone.

And without warning, and completely out of character, at least out of the character he had created for himself, Captain Pellew reached out and embraced Mr. Brandon. The boy fell into his arms with a muffled sob, and Archie swore he saw tears in the Captain's eyes as he held him tightly. "Welcome back, Mr. Brandon." He whispered into the top of his head.

Archie felt his own tears, then, and would have been ashamed, if not for the fact that Horatio...also...and Mr. Cousins...Archie swallowed, and took out his handkerchief.

Pellew cleared his throat suddenly, and turned to Mr. Cousins. "Mr. Cousins, you are relieved from watch. Please, we must get him to sick berth, I think." Pellew looked at Archie inquiringly.

Archie answered forthrightly. "A final bad night with his father, and the coach ride did him no good, I fear." Pellew nodded as Cousins and Hornblower assisted Brandon. Archie could see the Captain wished to follow.

"Sir, I will gladly finish this watch. It is almost over anyway."

"Yes, Mr. Holloway will be up to relieve you shortly. Once he does, Mr. Kennedy, please report. I would dearly love an explanation for how you managed this!"

"Of course, Sir."

Pellew nodded to him awkwardly, and then hurried away.

Archie sighed deeply. Back on the Indy again!

He stood for a few moments in the silence of her deck, the feeling of happiness, not just for a mission accomplished, but for returning to the ship as well. He strode the quarterdeck, breathing the night air, looking up at the masts.

"It's a quiet night, my lady," he said to her. "But soon you'll be back out to sea again, with the wind pulling your sails. And won't we all be happier then!"

Archie blushed suddenly, to realize he'd spoken out loud to a SHIP. But the wind rustled in the ropes, and it was as if she'd answered him with a quiet, acquiescing sigh. And he realized it had happened.

He remembered the day in the prison cell when Horatio had stood over him and cried, "Don't you want to be back on the Indy? Feel the wind in your hair?" He'd thought Horatio was daft, then. It was only a ship; a collection of timber and rope and canvas skillfully put together by man. And he did not love the sea, like Horatio. This had never been his dream.

And yet...he looked proudly around her. She was so much more than timber and canvas. She was alive; he felt it this night, felt her heart beating to protect all of her men. And nothing WAS better than to be on her deck, and feel the wind in his hair. He longed suddenly to climb up the main mast, and look out, see the world from her view. He would do that tomorrow, perhaps; or perhaps he'd wait until Drew was better and take him up there also. She would heal them both.

Gently he reached into his breast pocket, and took out the handkerchief Alicia had shyly given him. He held it to his cheek, and then placed it back with a soft sigh.

Standing on the quarterdeck, arms behind him, he smiled. For the first time in his entire life, Archie Kennedy was a happy man.

I am an officer in His Majesty's Navy, he thought. I serve for the best Captain and with the best men, on the finest ship ever built. And there is nothing I would rather be.

April 11th, 1797

A Letter from Sir Edward Pellew to Kitty Cobham...

Dearest Kitty...

Most wonderful news. Mr. Brandon has returned to us, with his father's permission, no less. Thanks to the cunning of *Acting Lieutenant* Archie Kennedy!

I had been on deck in conversation late last evening with Mr. Hornblower, with Mr. Cousins on the watch. We saw the shore boat approaching, but as we were expecting Mr. Kennedy, it aroused minimal concern. Only as the boat grew closer did we note it contained TWO officers. Mr. Cousins guessed the truth first, "Sir, It CANNOT be..."; he scarcely dared give voice to his hopes, and I was afraid it would kill him should it not be Mr. Brandon.

But it was. His pale face eventually peaked over the side; he was so wounded that he made it up the ladder only with the careful assistance of Mr. Kennedy. But no matter how hurt, he spied me, and straightened himself up to his full height, and handed me his papers with a salute. Oh, my thoughts at that moment, Kitty, when I read his father's humble apology to me for ever doubting my handling of his rascal son, and begging me to take the boy back, subjecting him to whatever *corrective action* I deemed necessary, in order to restore his family honor.

Corrective action? Kitty, I looked at the boy and he was near collapse, beaten half to death, but his eyes on me with only trust and security, and relief to be back. And I did something then that will astound you; I forgot myself as Captain, and permitted myself to be human for a moment. Possibly had there been any men on deck other than my most trusted I would not have done it. But I needed, Kitty, to reach out and touch him, to ensure to myself that he was alive, and let him know he was finally safe.

I hugged him. There, I said it; you can stop smirking now, as I know you assuredly are. And I still believe that in general it is better for the young men to fear me! But in this instance, well, to use Lord Exton's own words, it was the most appropriate *Corrective Action* I could take.

Horatio and Mr. Cousins swept the boy down to sick berth, with Mr. Kennedy volunteering to finish the watch. I saw the boy settled in, Johnson gave him one of his own potions, and soon he was peacefully asleep. Johnson checked him for broken bones or more serious injury, thankfully there were none; but, oh, to see the violence his father wreaked on him; it made me both sick and angry. He will need several days of rest before he is himself once more.

Finally I did have a chance to hear Mr. Kennedy's report. His brother, it would seem, was great friends with Brandon's oldest brother, by all accounts a fine young man. Kennedy also was well aware of Lord Exton's obsession with his status in society. So he wrote to his brother, explaining the situation, and the three of them devised a plan. Somehow, they managed to handle Exton perfectly, convincing him that Drew's life here was hell, that his father had only played into the boy's hands by removing him, and that a black mark was left against the family name by having the boy quit in this way.

Mr. Kennedy, by the way, blames himself for the final assault on the boy, but I quickly discouraged such thinking. The lad is alive, and will be far better off for Kennedy's assistance. I did chastise him slightly for not letting me know his plans, but he calmly explained that he was not at all certain of success, and did not wish to get my hopes up needlessly.

I cannot explain the change in Mr. Kennedy just in this past week; he is at peace, Kitty. At long last I think he has decided to travel down the road of the future, instead of hiding in the house of his past. I watched him carefully as he reported. Though tired, he walked me patiently through his thought process, and his week performing for Exton. He apologized for making me sound like a Demon, and the ship a pit of hell, but did not cringe or wilt under my focus. I am impressed, and pleased; my own worst failing is in handling the likes of Lord Exton. His skill can become a valuable asset for me.

That is why I shall promote Kennedy to Acting Lieutenant. I have been desiring a third Lieutenant for some time, but had hesitated in promoting Mr. Cousins. Though his future is bright, I feel that early promotion placed far too heavy a burden on Hornblower's shoulders; one I feel he still carries the weight of. I wish Mr. Cousins to have the freedom to grow into the role of leadership. Kennedy I had been considering these past weeks, but had yet been uncertain that he would even desire the promotion. I now know he is ready.

I am still awaiting Admiral Hood, and am fairly itching to get back out to sea. But I am happy, happy with my men, happy with my ship, and happy with you, my dearest. I know we are still at war; at any moment one of my men, or even I myself, might be cut down. But I take comfort in knowing no ship is better prepared, and that should I be struck down, I have no regrets in how I have lived my life, or run my ship.

With the utmost love and affection...

Edward.