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The Quality of Mercy
by Sara J. Ter Beek

 

Lt. Archie Kennedy stood hugging himself against the cold. Somehow he, Horatio, and William Bush had all been granted leave for Christmas ashore. He sneezed violently, all too aware his shivers were not just from the cold. He was so withdrawn he didn't notice footsteps coming towards him.

"Mr. Kennedy," a voice said just behind him. Archie jumped, another shiver racking his frame. "My apologies, Archie, I did not mean to startle you." Bush's voice rippled with mirth at Archie's reaction. "I should have thought my approach was clearly audible in the snow."

Archie grinned at him while clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. "I wasn't paying attention, but you won't be able to sneak up on me so easily again."

Bush's eyebrows drew together as he frowned in concern. "Are you feeling all right, Archie? Those shivers keep getting worse." He reached out and grasped Archie's shoulder.

"Has our coach been hired?" Horatio called.

"Yes, Horatio," Archie answered as he tried to shake off Bush's hand.

"Mr. Kennedy," Bush started, his voice tight with concern as he looked at the younger man.

"Come, Bush, we aren't aboard ship, there is no need for such formality." Horatio said. He looked from Archie to Bush and back. "Archie?" his good humor faltered as he realized Archie's cheeks weren't flushed from the cold, but from fever.

"I am fine, Horatio. Shall we be on our way? Your father is waiting." Archie answered. He picked up his bag and headed towards the waiting sleigh.

Bush turned to Horatio, "Your father is a doctor, is he not?" Horatio nodded. "Perhaps he will be able to take care of Mr. Kennedy. After you, Mr. Hornblower."

The three men rode in a silence broken only by Archie's coughing, the creak of the horse's harness, and the hiss of the sleigh's runners on the crisp snow. After a while, Archie fell asleep. Bush and Horatio watched him.

"Did you know he was sick?" Bush asked softly.

Horatio shook his head, "I knew he had been sneezing, but I had no idea he was this badly off." Horatio's tone was full of anger - not at Archie, but at himself for his inattention.

Bush turned to him, his face unreadable, "I didn't notice either."

They lapsed into silence again. A while later, the sleigh came to a stop in front of a house glowing in the darkness. Horatio reached over and gently shook Archie awake.

"We're here," he said.

Before they could stand, the front door opened, and Dr. Hornblower appeared. Bush rose to greet him, and to give Archie and Horatio more room. Dr. Hornblower hurried out, his hand outstretched.

"Happy Christmas, Dr. Hornblower," Bush said shaking the doctor's hand. "Thank you for your hospitality, too. I could have joined my sisters, but they are a day's journey there and back..."

"Not at all, not at all, Mr. Bush. Welcome to my home." Dr. Hornblower answered. He turned to Horatio and Archie.

"Father," Horatio said. He gave his father a stilted smile.

"Mr. Kennedy, Archie, a full lieutenant at last." Dr. Hornblower's welcoming smile turned into a frown of concern as he noted the fever flush in Archie's cheeks and the chills which coursed through him.

Mrs. Dabney appeared in the doorway. She gestured for them to enter.

"Don't stand there idling in this weather," she scolded, "You'll catch your deaths, and then what would we do." As if to punctuate her point, Archie sneezed violently. Mrs. Dabney placed her hands on her hips, but her expression was triumphant as if to say, *I told you so.*

Horatio helped Archie step out onto the snow. He would have helped him to the door, but Bush stopped him.

"You go in with your father, Mr. Hornblower, and I will help Mr. Kennedy with our bags." his tone held a note of command, so Horatio obeyed.

Father and son, so alike, entered the warmth of the house. Horatio glanced back to see Bush take Archie's arm as he directed the disgruntled driver to take their bags in.

"How long has Archie had that fever?" Dr. Hornblower asked softly.

Horatio grimaced, "I don't know. He started sneezing a few days ago, but he said it was nothing."

Dr. Hornblower nodded. "Mrs. Dabney will get us all something to warm ourselves, and then, I think, Mr. Kennedy should go straight to bed," he said softly.

"He slept almost the whole way here," Horatio answered.

"Ah, that is what he needs then, a nice warm bed." Dr. Hornblower said, his tone disguising the concern he felt.

Archie and Bush joined them in the toasty warm parlor. A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, and the room seemed to glow. Bush pulled a chair close to the fire, and almost pushed Archie into it.

"Stay there, Archie, and warm up. This cold seeps in everywhere." Bush said. He looked at the window, as a gust of wind howled past.

"Mrs. Dabney, something warm....ah, I see you agree," Dr. Hornblower said with a smile.

Mrs. Dabney came in, and set down her tray with four cups of steaming and fragrant liquid. She handed them out.

"Hot mulled cider for you, my special recipe," she said as Bush took a cautious sip.

A delighted smile lit his face. "This is quite good, Mrs. Dabney, thank you."

Mrs. Dabney set Archie's cup on the table beside his chair. "Drink up, you'll feel better."

"I've been looking forward to this for days, Mrs. Dabney," Archie replied.

He lifted the cup, closed his eyes, and inhaled the rich fragrance. Mrs. Dabney wasn't the only one to watch with concern as his hands trembled. With a sigh, he took a sip. His eyes fluttered open as he smiled broadly.

"You'll need to give me this recipe, Mrs. Dabney. Our cook's, at our estate, isn't half as good." It looked like he would say something more, but a cough racked his body.

Horatio took a step towards his friend, but Bush stopped him. He nodded towards Dr. Hornblower. Horatio followed his look.

Dr. Hornblower slowly crossed the room to kneel stiffly before Archie. Mrs. Dabney hovered protectively, but neither Bush nor Horatio could have said who she was protecting.

"Archie, we need to get you into a hot bath, and then bed." Dr. Hornblower was firm, but gentle.

Archie leaned his head back against the chair, and let himself relax. He gestured helplessly.
"I don't want to be a bother..." he said. "Perhaps I should not have come."

Bush and Horatio looked at each other. Unintentionally, they shuddered in unison.

"Just don't make me carry you again," Horatio quipped.

Bush glared at him in the ensuing silence. Archie grinned, and managed a small chuckle.

"It could be raining," he answered. "And we could be in prison again."

Dr. Hornblower had glanced at them just as they shuddered. He frowned, and turned back.

"Margaret, some hot water for Mr. Kennedy, please, and some tea with honey." Dr. Hornblower ordered briskly. "Now, finish your cider, there's a good lad."

Mrs. Dabney clucked over their comments. She still seethed that some Spaniard had dared imprison her precious charge. She bustled away to get things ready for Archie's bath.

Once she was out of the room, Bush and Horatio joined Archie and Dr. Hornblower by the fire. Archie looked up at them with a grimace.

"I feel like such a fool."

Dr. Hornblower turnrd to him sternly, "You are only foolish for letting yourself become so exhausted. Why didn't you go to the ship's doctor?"

Horatio exchanged a quick glance with Archie. "Dr. Clive isn't like you, father. Though, I do admit he is much better than Dr. Hepplewhite."

Archie shuddered in memory. "Nothing but leeches and laudanum." he muttered through a cough.

"Let's get you upstairs, and into that bath." Bush said.

He and Horatio took each of Archie's arms, and lifted him from the chair. Archie irritably pushed their hands away.

"I can walk on my own," he grumbled. With a defiant shake of his head, he started for the door.

Mrs. Dabney opened it just as Archie reached it. He smiled at her a bit sheepishly as she sternly set her hands on her hips, and looked at him.

"I am on my way upstairs, Mrs. Dabney," he said, and tried to move past her.
Horatio, Bush, and Dr. Hornblower watched their confrontation with open amusement. That good humor was ended as Archie nearly doubled over in a coughing spasm. He moaned involuntarily at the end. Mrs. Dabney took him gently by the hand, and led him to the stairs.

"I will watch the water," Horatio volunteered.

"I'll help." Bush agreed.

Dr. Hornblower nodded, and made his way to the stairs. He slowly followed Archie and Mrs. Dabney.

After a few moments, she got Archie settled, and sat him on his bed. She then bustled out of the room, and left Archie and Dr. Hornblower alone.

"How long have you had this fever?"

Archie grimaced. "I think it started last night. At least, that's when the chills began."

"The sneezing and coughing?" Dr. Hornblower prompted.

"The sneezing began about a week ago with the cough a few days later. I thought it would go away by itself."

"And so it might, but rest, warmth, and no watches should make it better sooner." Dr. Hornblower agreed. "Let me help you."

Archie nodded, a curious lethargy consuming him. Dr. Hornblower gently removed Archie's jacket, and loosened his collar. He was about to remove his boots when Bush and Horatio appeared at the door carrying buckets of steaming water. Archie looked over at them, his eyes twinkling.

"Those are for me." it was a statement, not a question.

Bush set his down with a slight grunt. "Aye, Mr. Kennedy, we couldn't let Mrs. Dabney do all the work."

As he spoke, Mrs. Dabney passed behind him with another bucket. "This way." she said, walking further down the hall.

Horatio followed her, but Bush entered Archie's room.

"Do you need help?" he asked, nodding towards Archie's boots.

"If you would." Dr. Hornblower answered, and stepped back to let Bush take his place. "My knees don't bend so easily these days."
Bush pulled one boot off, and was about to grasp the other when Horatio appeared in the doorway. He picked up the bucket.

"Your bath is ready, Archie." he said, before walking back down the hall.

Bush yanked off the other boot, and stepped back. Archie stood, and gamely smiled at him.

"Thank you," he said to both Bush and Dr. Hornblower. "I can do the rest myself." He left the room, and followed the sound of pouring water.

Mrs. Dabney was adding some cold water, and nodded in satisfaction when she tested the temperature of the bath water. She looked up as Archie appeared in the doorway.

"I'll leave you to it," she said, as she walked out the door, and pulled it closed behind her.

Archie hesitated for a moment before he pulled off the rest of his clothes, and sank into the steaming water. He let the water lap around him, and the warmth to seep into his aching muscles.

In the hallway, Bush, Horatio, Mrs. Dabney, and Dr. Hornblower listened for any indication Archie needed them. When no sounds were heard, they went back downstairs.

******

Dr. Hornblower, Horatio and Bush sat in the parlor. All three kept glancing at the door.

Horatio finally looked fully at his father and asked the question foremost in all their thoughts, "How bad is he?"

"He's worn down, like all of you, but this fever concerns me. The tea Mrs. Dabney is making should help his cough." Dr. Hornblower answered.

"Is it influenza?" Bush asked. He and Horatio exchanged concerned looks - Renown's crew could be in danger.

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "I don't think so. The symptoms are close, but aren't as severe as I would expect with influenza. However, only time will tell."

"You are worried about him," Bush observed.

"About all of us," Dr. Hornblower answered, "If he does have influenza, we've all been exposed, and so are all at risk. He should be watched carefully until his fever breaks."

Bush and Horatio glanced at each other. Bush jumped in before Horatio could to volunteer, "I will sit first watch with him."

To forestall any objections by Horatio, Bush simply got up, and left the room. Horatio stood up, but his father waved him back down.

"The three of you have become good friends," Dr. Hornblower observed. Horatio nodded. "Let him have this time then."

Expressionlessly, Horatio agreed, but he kept glancing at the closed door. After a few moments Mrs. Dabney's footsteps were heard heading up the steps.

******

Bush paused outside the closed door, and lightly tapped. "Archie, the water must be getting cold. Are you getting out soon?" He waited for a response since he knew how self-conscious Archie was about his body.

He grinned as he heard water splashing. After a moment, Archie opened the door. He was dressed in his nightshirt, his hair curled in damp ringlets around his face, and he left a trail of wet footprints on the floor as he walked to his room. Bush followed.

Archie dropped onto the bed with a groan, and lay back against the pillows. He looked up to see Bush watching him from the doorway. He tried to push himself into a seated position, but gave up in the midst of a coughing spasm. Bush hurried in, and pulled him upright. Gradually, the spasm eased.

"Thank you, Mr. Bush," Archie said formally.

"Not at all, Archie," Bush replied. He eased Archie back into the mattress, and pulled the blankets over him. "That's better. Now, you just lie back, and get some sleep."

He settled into the chair, and stretched out his legs. Mrs. Dabney cracked the door open, and entered with a tray. She glanced at Archie, who appeared to be asleep, and gently set the tray down.

"Here's some tea for you, and a nice toddy for him when he wakes," she said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Dabney, I'll be sure he drinks it." Bush answered. He picked up his own cup, and inhaled the fragrant steam.

Mrs. Dabney nodded as she left the room. As the door closed, Archie opened his eyes. He glanced over at Bush, and smiled wanly.

"She left me a hot toddy?" his words were cut off as his body was racked in a coughing spasm.
Bush hurriedly set his tea down, and pulled Archie upright until the spasm eased. He lowered Archie back into the pillow. He had been able to feel Archie's fever through the fabric of his nightshirt.

He picked up Archie's cup, and handed it to him. To disguise his concern, Bush sat back down to drink his own tea. They sat in silence.

"Archie," Bush began, his eyes not moving from the depths of his tea cup. He lapsed into silence, unsure of how to phrase his question.

"Yes? What is it?" Archie asked. He watched Bush over the rim of his cup. A sigh escaped him as the hot liquid soothed his sore throat.

Bush was momentarily reprieved as the door opened. Mrs. Dabney entered with a pitcher, basin, and cloths. She set the things on the dresser, and filled the basin.

"Dr. Hornblower says these cold cloths will help the fever. Drink your toddy Mr. Kennedy, and I will bring another, if you like."

"Thank you, Mrs. Dabney." Archie murmured, his eyes drifting closed.

"I'll leave you then. Call if you need me." Mrs. Dabney whispered to Bush.

"I will. Let me," Bush replied as he reached for the cloth she was wringing out. She nodded and let him take it.

He stood and walked over to the bed. He lightly touched Archie's forehead, and grimaced in concern over the heat. Archie opened his eyes, and Bush was startled by the panic clearly visible in them. He smoothed the wet cloth on Archie's forehead and leaned away.

"Hush, Archie, you're safe," he soothed quietly. "Sleep now."

Archie's eyes finally focused on him, "Bush! I...I thought you were someone else..."

"So I gathered, Archie. It's the fever." Bush pulled his chair closer, and sat down within arms reach. "Just rest."

Archie nodded, and let his eyes close. Bush grinned as Archie sighed, for a moment he sounded like a small child. Gradually his breathing slowed, and he sank into sleep.

Bush sat next to him, re-wetting the cloth when it grew too warm, and soothing when Archie became restless. His thoughts churned incoherently as he watched the younger man sleep.

After a few hours, the door opened quietly. Dr. Hornblower entered.
"How is he?"

Bush shrugged. "He's sleeping, but not well. I don't think his fever has come down, but it hasn't gone up either." his voice was tight.

"You have kept the cool cloths on him, and that is all you can do right now." Dr. Hornblower answered. "Now, you go to bed, and I will stay with him. Horatio will take over from me in a few hours."

Bush rose, and stretched. He cast a final glance at Archie before leaving the room. Dr. Hornblower took his place.

Archie jerked when the door latched. His eyes opened partially, but he relaxed when he recognized Dr. Hornblower.

"Ah, awake I see," Dr. Hornblower said when he caught a glimpse of Archie's eyes. "How do you feel?"

Archie blinked at him in the dim light, not totally awake and feeling more than a bit groggy. "I hurt." he finally mumbled.

Dr. Hornblower leaned in close, "Where? Perhaps I can help."

Archie's hand moved to his abdomen. "Here, and my back," he answered, and then frowned as Dr. Hornblower chuckled softly.

"No, I'm not laughing at you," he said. "You hurt there from the force of your coughing and sneezing - your body is feeling abused. Is there pain anywhere else? Do you ache or feel stiff?"

"I don't think so," Archie answered after a moment to consider. Anything else he planned to say was interrupted by a coughing spasm. "Ahhhh," he moaned at the end of it, as he held his stomach and winced.

As soon as the spasm began, Dr. Hornblower swiftly helped him into a more upright position, and supported him. When it was over, he gently settled him against the pillows. He poured a glass of water, and forced Archie to drink. Exhausted, Archie lay back and closed his eyes.

"Enough talking for now, Archie. You must rest to get well."

He wet the cloth, and smoothed it on Archie's brow, much as Bush had done. However, he also gently smoothed the hair away from Archie's face before sitting back. He watched Archie carefully, and saw him gradually sinking into sleep.

Archie knew he was being watched, and his skin tingled where he'd been touched. Had that happened any sooner, he would have been terrified, but this felt as though his mother were soothing him like she had when he was a boy. The thought comforted him, so he relaxed and let himself sleep.

Dr. Hornblower sat restlessly. He reached forward to check Archie's temperature, and frowned as he wet the cloth again. All was not well. The fever seemed to be rising, and Archie threw the covers off.

"Hush, Archie, hush. You will feel better soon." his words were soft and comforting. He looked around in frustration.

The door creaked open, and Mrs. Dabney appeared. She tsked quietly when she saw Archie's covers and his tossing and turning.

"I thought I heard movement in here," she whispered. "He's no better?"

"No, I fear he's getting worse," Dr. Hornblower replied. "I need fresh water and more cloths."

"I will be right back with them," Mrs. Dabney answered, promptly taking the pitcher and basin.

Her footsteps woke both Horatio and Bush. Dr. Hornblower smiled wanly at them when they entered the room.

"He's worse," Horatio said.

Dr. Hornblower nodded, "He was sleeping peacefully, but then his fever began to rise. Margaret is getting more water."

Bush lightly touched Archie's cheek, and grimaced to feel the heat radiating from him. He looked at Dr. Hornblower, and asked, "Is there something we can give him to bring the fever down?"

Dr. Hornblower frowned, "I hesitate because he is so sensitive to medications. There is the willow bark tea which may help, but the cold compresses may be as effective."

As he finished speaking, Mrs. Dabney returned with the fresh water and additional cloths. Horatio took them from her, and set them on the bureau. He filled the basin, and doused the cloths. Once they were completely wetted, he wrung them out and handed them to his father.

Dr. Hornblower bathed Archie's face, neck and chest. Bush and Horatio watched his motions and repeated them on his legs.
Archie continued to toss and turn, and he mumbled in his sleep. Dr. Hornblower turned away to re-wet his cloth, but Archie caught his arm.

"Shh, Archie, you'll be all right," Dr. Hornblower soothed. He tried to release himself, but Archie held on tightly.

The words reminded Horatio of how he first met Archie. Hale, hearty, jaunty, and bubbling with good humor.

"Don't leave me, Mama," Archie whimpered, his voice child-like.

Bush and Horatio looked up in astonished concern.

"What?" Horatio started, but his father waved him silent.

"It's the fever, Horatio," Dr. Hornblower said quietly. "He doesn't know what he's saying, but he does know he's being taken care of."

Mrs. Dabney edged closer to the bed. Dr. Hornblower let her take the cloth from him, and smooth it on Archie's face. She cooed and fussed over him until he let go of Dr. Hornblower's arm. The men moved away to give her space.

Under her careful ministrations, Archie began to relax. She took his hand, and held it. He slowly sank back into sleep. She gently placed his hand on his chest and released it.

Bush, Horatio, and Dr. Hornblower watched and waited. When Archie showed no signs of waking back up, they began to talk quietly.

"Is he going to be all right?" Bush asked, his voice tight with concern.

"If the fever breaks soon, but otherwise," Dr. Hornblower answered.

Horatio shook his head, "I've never seen him like this, not even in Spain." He turned to his father, "There must be something we can do for him."

Dr. Hornblower glanced over at the bed, and Mrs. Dabney sitting motionless beside it. He shook his head in frustration. He took a few steps forward. When Horatio would have followed, Bush caught his arm.

"Wait, Horatio," he counseled. "There is nothing you can do right now. Let him work."

Horatio shrugged out of Bush's hold, but did wait. He clasped his hands together and rocked back on his heels.

Bush saw the action, and had to stifle a smile, even considering the potentially serious situation in which they found themselves. He recognized, even though Horatio didn't, the instinctive response to give the appearance of being in control, in command, even when he wasn't.

His musings were interrupted by Archie starting another coughing spasm. Dr. Hornblower and Mrs. Dabney quickly pulled him upright, and supported him through the spasm.

Horatio poured a glass of water, and held it to Archie's lips once the coughing eased. Archie gulped greedily until the cup was empty. After he was finished, Dr. Hornblower gently helped him lay back down.

With Mrs. Dabney to stay with Archie, Dr. Hornblower drew Bush and Horatio into the hallway, and closed the door.

"He's getting worse, so we need to keep someone with him," Dr. Hornblower began, his face grave. His fatigue clearly visible in the deep lines etched into his face.

Horatio glanced anxiously at the closed door. "I will take over sitting with him." he said firmly in his command voice.

Bush and Dr. Hornblower exchanged amused looks. Horatio's tone and demeanor so at odds with his loosened hair, bare feet, and ruffled night shirt. Their amusement was interrupted by the sound of sneezing. After about five sneezes, the sound stopped.

Horatio started for the door, but his father stepped in the way.

"You must keep him cool, Horatio, to help his fever break. If he throws off his covers, let him. When he shivers, cover him with the blankets until he is warm. When he coughs, help him sit up - the spasms are easier that way. If he wants to drink, let him have as much as he wants." Dr. Hornblower's voice was firm. "Lastly, if you need help, ask for it."

Horatio nodded, and opened the door. Mrs. Dabney looked up at him. She had a handkerchief in her hands.

"His sneezing seemed to help his nose start to drain. I will bring more clean ones," she said, and bustled into the hall.

Horatio nodded absently to her as he looked down at Archie. He sank down into the chair, and re-wet the cloth on Archie's forehead.

Archie's earlier plea for his mother echoed in Horatio's ears. He remembered calling for his own mother after she'd died, but he'd never even imagined she'd come back to him. For a moment he was lost in memories, but a movement of Archie's hand pulled him back into the present.

He focused on Archie's face, but he didn't wake up. His father's words mingled with his own from another time and country, *You're going to drink, you're going to eat, and you're going to get better.*

"But we're no longer assigned to the *Indy* and I'm sure you don't want to go back to Captain Sawyer any more than I do," he murmured aloud. Archie twitched in response to Horatio's voice. "Why didn't you tell me you were sick? Didn't you know you could trust me?"

He heard the clock chime in the parlor. A vague smile crossed his face - it was 3 o'clock in the morning on Christmas Eve. He hadn't even realized it was past midnight.

"Tomorrow is Christmas, Archie. Don't you want to join us for plum pudding, roast duck, and mince pie? You are going to have to get better quickly - as quickly as you got so sick."

Mrs. Dabney opened the door cautiously, "Is he awake?" she asked, "I thought I heard voices."

Horatio shook his head, "No, but he seems to be sleeping more easily than before." he said.

"You don't have to take care of him all by yourself, call if you need help," Mrs. Dabney said warmly, as she placed a stack of freshly laundered handkerchiefs next to him.

Horatio looked up at her, "Thank you, Margaret," a grateful smile hovered about his lips.

Mrs. Dabney looked from him to Archie. "Would you like me to stay for a time?" she asked, even though she knew he would refuse.

"No, you get some sleep. No need for all of us to be awake" Horatio replied. She nodded, and backed out of the room.

Horatio looked back at Archie. He was pale except for two brilliant spots of color in his cheeks from the fever. *Archie, please wake up and be yourself. I can't have nursed you back from near starvation, to lose you to a fever. I won't let that happen to my closest friend - not after you've accomplished so much.*

Archie sneezed, and woke himself up. He saw Horatio, and smiled wanly.

"I can't breathe through my nose," he grumbled hoarsely.

Horatio handed him a handkerchief. Archie took it with a hint of a smile. After he started to blow his nose, it seemed as though he would never stop. Horatio tried to stifle his laugh, but a chuckle snuck past. Archie paused, his eyes gleaming with amusement.

"Does something amuse you, Mr. Hornblower?" his tone was as arch as he could make it given his state, but it sounded much different than usual.

At first he thought to defend himself, but then he saw the humor in Archie's face. "Hmm, no, what makes you ask, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie grinned and dropped the pretense. "You look worried, Horatio. Is there something wrong?"

Horatio looked at Archie, and sighed. He shook his head. "I just want you to concentrate on getting well." he glanced at the door, "It's Christmas Eve, Archie. The best present you can give me, Archie, is your company at Christmas dinner."

Archie tilted his head towards Horatio, unspoken questions in his eyes. He shifted position, and relaxed back into the pillows. His eyes were still fever bright, but the color in his cheeks did seem to be getting lighter.

"I'll be fine, Horatio," he croaked. His eyes widened at the sound of his voice. It had gotten raspier and lower the more he spoke.

Horatio managed a slight grin at Archie's expression.

"How do you feel now?" Horatio asked.

Archie groaned, "I feel terrible." he grimaced, "Sound terrible, too,"

"Are you hungry or thirsty?"

Archie nodded, "Thirsty."

Horatio poured some water, and held out the glass. Archie took it, and sipped cautiously. Eventually he drained the glass. Horatio extended the pitcher, his expression questioning. At Archie's nod he refilled the glass.

"Thank you, Horatio." he said, handing the glass back once he'd finished. A hint of his usual humor asserted itself, "Does this remind you of anything?"

Horatio nodded, "Spain," he answered. "Of course, here we have Mrs. Dabney's cooking and Father's medical training."

"No bars, no hole-in-the-earth..." Archie's tone turned teasing, "No Duchess. After all, it is a bit cold for 'promenading on cliffs, having conversations.'"

Horatio glared, but they both knew it was all in fun. After a moment, he relented and a smile blossomed across his face.
"Definitely better food," Archie declared. He winced as he swallowed.

"What is it?" Horatio asked, leaning forward in concern, "How can I help?"

"It's just a sore throat, Horatio," Archie answered a bit irritably, "It goes along with the coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and fever."

He sat glowering at Horatio reveling in his misery for a few minutes before he relented.

"Before I fell asleep, Mrs. Dabney made me some tea sweetened with honey, that sounds like it might help my throat."

Horatio jumped to his feet, "I will be back with it in a few minutes."

When he got to the kitchen, he found Bush heating water.

"What?" he started.

Bush flashed him a grin, "I heard you talking, so I thought I'd make myself useful. How is he?"

Horatio shook his head in frustration, "I don't know. He sounds like himself, and then he doesn't. He's awake and alert."

"That's better than a few hours ago." Bush observed. "He's grumpy because he doesn't feel well. You and I sit at his bedside - hale and healthy. He's probably a bit jealous that we don't feel as horrible as he does."

Horatio sat down at the table, and thought about Bush's words. Bush tended the stove to give him some time. Horatio looked up.

"Do you really think he's jealous?"

Bush shrugged, the Gallic mannerism caused them both to smile. "You know Archie better than I. What do you think?"

Horatio was saved from answering by the water coming to a boil. Bush poured the water over the tea leaves while Horatio found the jar with the honeycomb.

They assembled the teapot, tea cup, honey, and milk on a tray. Bush held the door open, and Horatio grabbed the tray. Together they went upstairs.

Bush pushed the door of Archie's bedroom open, and followed Horatio in. Archie looked up. Bush noted his eyes were still glittering with fever, but he didn't look as flushed.

"The tea with honey, just as you requested," Bush said as Horatio poured.

Archie sniffed, and then frowned, "I wish I could smell," he grumbled to himself.

Horatio caught Bush's eye, and raised his eyebrows in silent query. Bush nodded, and both refrained from deliberately inhaling the fragrance of the tea. Archie saw their look, but managed not to say anything nasty.

"Here, Archie," Horatio said, extending the cup. "Hopefully this will help."

Archie took the cup, and tried to inhale, but even the close proximity of the cup to his face wasn't enough to help him. He took a sip, and grimaced. Bush saw his expression, and paused with his cup almost at his lips.

"Something wrong with the tea?" he asked. Deliberately, he sipped from his cup - the tea tasted fine to him. In fact, it tasted as good as it smelled.

Archie shook his head in frustration. "It tastes wrong somehow. Yours seems to be fine. Horatio, have you..." his words trailed off as he watched Horatio drink.

"Better than what we're used to," was Horatio's comment.

Not convinced, Archie took another sip. It still tasted strange, but then so had the water he'd drunk earlier. Horatio and Bush watched him closely. He looked up, and grinned.

"I'm just not used to good tea anymore," he said. To make his point, he took another sip - it might taste wrong, but it did feel good on his sore throat. He forced himself to finish, and set the cup down.

"Do you want more?" Horatio asked, as he reached for the teapot.

"Not right now," Archie replied. "I think I want to sleep again." He leaned back into the pillows and closed his eyes.

Horatio sat back, and Bush lounged against the wall. They stayed in those positions until they felt certain Archie had fallen back asleep.

Downstairs, the clock chimed four times. Bush stretched. Horatio looked up at him while trying to suppress a yawn.

"You should go back to bed," he hissed.

Bush shook his head, "You are more tired than I," he answered. "Besides, I've grown accustomed to standing this watch." his tone was sardonic.

Horatio grimaced, "You've drawn this watch regularly for the past few weeks."

Bush made a noncommittal sound, "There's something peaceful about standing watch in the middle of the night - no sounds but the wind and waves."

"No Captain Sawyer...." Horatio broke off quickly.

Bush hid a grin at Horatio's slip. He gestured for Horatio to stand up.

"Sir, I," Horatio started.

"We're not aboard ship, Mr. Hornblower," Bush interrupted. "It is 4 in the morning, and you've had little sleep, I didn't hear you say anything improper."

Horatio, though still cringing, was unable to stifle another yawn. With a small sigh, he rose as silently as possible. Once he'd moved far enough from the chair, Bush sat down. Horatio paused at the door and looked back.

"You'll call if you or he need something," he prompted, as he tried to regain his composure.

Bush nodded as he gestured for Horatio to shut the door. A grin blossomed on his face while he waited for Horatio to walk away.

"He didn't mean to imply anything," Archie said, suddenly opening his eyes.

Bush jumped, "Did we wake you?"

Archie grinned, "I didn't mean to startle you," he apologized. "And, no, you didn't wake me. I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn't." He coughed, but the spasm was over quickly.

"Can I get you anything? More tea?"

Archie shook his head, "I'm fine, but there is something you can do for me."

"What is it?" Bush asked.

"Be honest with me," Archie's face was serious. "How sick am I?"

Bush gaped at him, utterly speechless. Archie's question caught him completely off guard. For a moment, which felt like an eternity, his mouth worked silently.

"Am I dying? Is that why every time I wake up someone is sitting at my bedside?" Archie pressed, his voice growing more anxious with every word.

Bush still didn't know what to say. Instead of answering, he reached out and touched Archie's forehead. He was still feverish, but he didn't feel as hot as a few hours before.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about," Bush said slowly. "We've been waiting for your fever to break. When that happens, we'll know more."

"Am I dying?" Archie pushed.

Bush took a deep breath, "Not today," he answered firmly, after he'd suppressed all of his concerns, so Archie wouldn't hear them.

Relieved, Archie relaxed against the pillows. His eyes fluttered closed, and Bush thought he'd fallen back asleep. Bush tried to settle into the chair, but shifted uncomfortably while he listened to Archie sniff. He watched his friend, and prayed for him to get well. Gradually, his eyes unfocused as his concentration deepened.

As exhausted as he was, Archie couldn't sleep. He heard Bush exhale softly. He opened his eyes a slit, and saw Bush's lips moving silently.

"Do you want to know why I asked you, and not Horatio?" Archie rasped quietly, a sneeze racking his entire body.

"What?" Bush stuttered as he jumped a second time.

"About if I was dying," Archie said. His eyes were glittering with fever. He couldn't help being amused by Bush's jumpiness.

"Well, yes, I suppose so," Bush fumbled for words.

Archie watched him intently. He tried to sigh, but coughed instead. Bush immediately jumped up to support him.

"I think you've talked enough for now. You need your rest, Archie," Bush's firm tone disguised the stab of fear he felt listening to Archie's cough.

Once the spasm was over, and Archie again lay against the pillows, he pressed forward. "I need you to know, just in case." his voice had dropped in pitch and grated painfully as a result of the coughing.

"You will get better, Archie. When you do, you won't want to remember this conversation happened." Bush glanced at the door, hoping Dr. Hornblower would walk in. "You need to sleep. Maybe Dr. Hornblower can help you do that."

He started to get up, but Archie's voice stopped him.

"William, please," Archie persisted, "You need to understand so you can explain to Horatio."

Bush sank back into the chair. He pinned Archie with an intense stare, "If you tell me, will you go to sleep?" Archie nodded. "Why did you ask me instead of Horatio?"

Archie smiled vaguely. "Thank you, William. I asked you because I didn't want Horatio to be burdened by my worries, in addition to his own. He takes everything too much to heart." He reached for a glass of water. After a sip, he continued, "He would blame himself for not seeing my illness earlier, and for not being able to cure it."

Bush waited for him to continue, but Archie had collapsed back into the pillows gasping and coughing. He thought about Archie's words, and slowly nodded.

"Do you understand?" Archie asked. His eyelids fluttered with the effort to keep them open.

Bush leaned forward, and lightly grasped his forearm, "Yes, I believe I do. Now, go to sleep, Archie. All will be well."

Archie nodded, and Bush felt the tense muscles in his friend's arm relax. Downstairs, the clock chimed five. Bush leaned back, and watched Archie sleep.

*******

Bush absently noticed the clock chime again, but was distracted by the sound of footsteps in the hall. He looked up when the door opened, but instead of Horatio, as he'd expected, Dr. Hornblower entered.

"Good morning, Mr. Bush," Dr. Hornblower greeted softly.

"Good morning, sir. Did you sleep well?" Bush answered.

Dr. Hornblower rapidly examined Archie. He frowned when he felt his forehead.

"He's still feverish."

Bush nodded, "I don't think it is as high as during the night, though."

"I don't think so either." Dr. Hornblower agreed. He turned to Bush, and his frown reappeared. "I had expected my son to be here this morning."

"I sent him to bed around four, he could barely stay awake."

"And how much sleep did you get, Mr. Bush?"
Bush chuckled quietly, "Not as much as I could have hoped, but enough."

.Dr. Hornblower looked at him sternly. "You need to keep yourself from getting ill, and that starts with not letting yourself get run down."

After rising to his feet, Bush stretched. He looked down at Archie, and a smile touched his lips.

"He's finally sleeping peacefully," Bush commented, his tone pensive.

Dr. Hornblower pinned him with an intense look as he repeated, "Finally? Has he been agitated?"

Bush thought for a moment, "Not agitated, wakeful." He lapsed into silence. Dr. Hornblower waited. "He's been concerned about his illness, in his more coherent moments."

"How so?"

"He," Bush broke off, frowning, "He asked if he was dying." he finished.

"What did you tell him?" Dr. Hornblower asked compassionately.

"That he would be fine," Bush answered, but his frustration and confusion colored his words. "I didn't know what to tell him."

Dr. Hornblower looked at him sympathetically. He nodded, and remembered times when patients had asked him the same question. Bush stood up, and gestured for Dr. Hornblower to take the chair. He sat down slowly.

"You did the right thing," Dr. Hornblower said. "He needed to hear the words. I think he will heal quickly once the fever breaks." He looked at Archie, and noted some healthier color in his cheeks, and not as much of the fever flush. Bush tried to stifle a sudden yawn. "Go to bed, Mr. Bush. You're asleep on your feet." Dr. Hornblower finished kindly.

Bush nodded, and turned towards the door. He hesitated with his hand on the doorknob, and looked over his shoulder. "Please call me William," he said.

"Happy Christmas, William," Dr. Hornblower said, a smile hovering about his lips.

"Happy Christmas, sir," Bush replied.

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

The next few hours were passed in relative silence. Mrs. Dabney worked in the kitchen preparing for their dinner. Dr. Hornblower sat at Archie's bedside. Horatio, Archie, and Bush all slept.

About mid-morning, Horatio woke up. For an instant he didn't know where he was. He sat up and looked around. He quickly got up and dressed, and peeked into Archie's room.

Dr. Hornblower looked up and smiled. "He's sleeping easily this morning. His fever is starting to drop. We no longer need to be concerned about influenza."

Horatio glanced back into the hall, but all the doors were closed. "Where is William?"

His father grinned, "Still abed and asleep, I hope. After he sent you to bed, Archie was wakeful, so he didn't get much rest."

Horatio looked at Archie, "Is he going to be all right?"

Dr. Hornblower rose stiffly to his feet, and laid his hand on Horatio's shoulder. "Yes, I think he will be fine." Horatio smiled slightly. "Margaret has tea and breakfast waiting for you downstairs. I'll stay with Archie until you're finished."

"I'll be back soon, Father," Horatio said from the doorway.

A few moments later a rather bleary eyed Bush peeked into Archie's room.

"Happy Christmas, William," Dr. Hornblower greeted. "I just sent Horatio down for tea and breakfast. You should join him." He saw Bush glance towards the bed. "He's sleeping peacefully, and is slowly improving."

"Thank you, sir," Bush answered with a half smile, "Food sounds very good."

He started to leave the room, but paused in the doorway when Archie shifted. Dr. Hornblower settled back in his chair, and gestured for Bush to continue. He picked up the book he'd been reading and looked at the page as he waited for the door to close.

Bush walked down the stairs, and hesitated. It had been so late the night before that he hadn't seen the dining room. He listened closely until he heard Horatio say something to Mrs. Dabney. He smiled as he followed the voices.

Horatio looked up as the door opened. Mrs. Dabney was fussing with the teapot.

"Good morning, William. Did you check in on Archie this morning?" Horatio asked as he gestured for Bush to sit down.

"I did, Horatio. Happy Christmas, Mrs. Dabney. " Bush said as he sat down. Mrs. Dabney set a cup and saucer before him, and poured some fragrant tea. He inhaled the rich aroma, and a smile crossed his face.
"My father says he is improving, so we don't need to alert the ship of an influenza outbreak."

Mrs. Dabney placed a heaping plateful of food in front of Bush. "Eat up, I'm convinced the Navy doesn't understand the importance of a good meal. All of you are skin and bones."

"She's never met any first lieutenant I've served with." Horatio muttered under his breath.

Bush caught the comment, but reacted only by slightly raising his eyebrows. He smiled inwardly as Mr. Buckland's rotund form came to mind. "They do feed us, Mrs. Dabney, but it can't compare to this."

Mrs. Dabney preened at the praise, and dumped more food on his plate. Horatio smiled as he watched them. Finished, he pushed his plate away, and started to rise.

"Margaret, is there tea to take up to my father for Mr. Kennedy?" he asked. "I can bring it upstairs for you."

When he reached for his plate to carry it to the kitchen, Mrs. Dabney grabbed it first. She headed towards the kitchen, plate in hand. Horatio hesitated, and glanced down at Bush.

"The teapot is warming," Mrs. Dabney said over her shoulder. "Come on if you want to bring it up to them. I'll see to Mr. Bush."

Bush caught Horatio's eye. "If Archie is awake, tell him I'll be up to check on him soon." Bush said, humor lurking behind his eyes. "In the meantime, I, and my stomach, are in good hands." With that, he turned his attention back to his plate.

Horatio bit back a reply and followed Mrs. Dabney into the kitchen. She handed him a tray loaded with the tea things and food.

"You make sure no one stays too long and disturbs Mr. Kennedy's sleep. Your father needs to go out for his daily walk, and you and Mr. Bush should go with him." As she spoke, Mrs. Dabney pushed him, tray and all, out into the hallway.

Horatio smiled at her fondly. "I will make sure Father doesn't sit too long." he promised, as he headed for the stairwell.

Mrs. Dabney watched him go. "I'll make sure you don't sit too long either," she muttered at his retreating figure.

Bush looked up as Mrs. Dabney bustled into the dining room. "Breakfast was wonderful, Mrs. Dabney. Thank you."

"I do like cooking for appreciative appetites," she replied. Her face was slightly flushed at the compliment. "Do you need anything else?"

"Some more tea? What we have onboard that they call tea is not nearly as good as this." Bush held up his cup and saucer with an ingratiating smile.

"Certainly," she answered. She briskly refilled his cup, and began clearing away the breakfast dishes.

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

Horatio tried to balance the overly full tray while opening the door, and nearly dropped everything. He paused, took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders as much as possible. He gritted his teeth and lightly tapped the door with his toe.

Dr. Hornblower tilted his head at the sound. He looked at Archie.

"Did you hear something?" he asked.

Archie coughed as he nodded. "Is it someone at the door?" He propped himself up on his elbows.

They looked at each other and grinned as Horatio's hissed, "Father, open the door." reached them.

Dr. Hornblower got up, and opened the door, much to Horatio's relief.

"Why didn't you just call?" Dr. Hornblower asked as he moved aside to give Horatio enough room to get past him.

"I didn't want to wake Archie." Horatio whispered back.

Dr. Hornblower and Archie exchanged amused glances behind Horatio's back.

"How could I sleep with all of you walking in to check on me? I would have gotten more rest if I'd tried to sleep in the kitchen." Archie answered. "Is there any tea for me?"

Horatio turned at the sound of Archie's voice. "Are you feeling better?"

Archie smiled wryly, "I feel like one of our twenty-four pounders has landed on my chest, and then rolled over me. However, I can hear out of my left ear now - that's an improvement." his voice was rich with sardonic humor.

Horatio tried to hide his relief at Archie's humor, but both Archie and Dr. Hornblower saw it anyway.

"The tea, Horatio," Dr. Hornblower prompted.

Horatio nodded, flustered. He turned his back to Archie and his father. He looked down and realized his hands were shaking.

"Will you let me get up at all today?" Archie asked Dr. Hornblower.

"Not until later." He placed his hand on Archie's forehead and cheek. "You are still running a fever, until that breaks you aren't to get up."

"Here's your tea," Horatio said, handing him the cup.

Archie took it, and tried to inhale the aroma. He sniffed instead, and glowered into the cup. "I still can't smell," he grumped. Dr. Hornblower hid his smile behind his hand, and turned away so Archie wouldn't be able to see him. "Don't laugh at me!"

Dr. Hornblower turned back, "I'm not, Archie. I know how frustrating it is to be sick. Drink your tea, it will help you feel better."

Somewhat mollified, Archie did as Dr. Hornblower advised. Horatio handed his father his cup. Dr. Hornblower nodded his thanks, and creakily sat down before the fire.

Horatio leaned against the wall, and looked down at his friend and his father. "Margaret told me I wasn't to let you stay here for too long." he began. Dr. Hornblower looked up, and opened his mouth to answer, but Archie spoke first.

"Where did she have me going?" he quipped.

Dr. Hornblower smiled. They all knew the return of Archie's humor meant he was starting to feel better. Horatio gave him a mock scowl.

"You'll obey doctor's orders, Archie." he answered.

"My daily constitutional, eh? Well, I suppose she has a point, especially since I gave myself the prescription." Dr. Hornblower commented. "This cold seeps into you, so the walk will be a short one. Did she think you should join me, Horatio?"

"Yes, and Mr. Bush, too."

Before Dr. Hornblower could respond, the door opened, and Bush poked his head in. "Did I hear my name?" he asked lightly.

Archie leaned forward, his cup extended for a refill of the tea. He grinned at Bush, his cheeks were flushed more with mischief than fever now, but he still couldn't seem to breathe terribly well. Bush entered the room, and quickly closed the door as the cold air from the hallway seemed to permeate the area. With all of them there, suddenly the room seemed very small.

Bush shifted slightly uneasily. He felt like he was intruding. He edged back towards the door. Dr. Hornblower saw him.

"Mr. Bush, William, you don't need to go." He said. "Archie, I have other business I need to see to downstairs, but I check on you in awhile." He stood and headed for the door. "The two of you stay here. If Archie starts getting tired, you are to let him get his rest."

"Thank you," Archie said. Dr. Hornblower nodded, and pulled the door closed.

Bush and Horatio looked at each other. Archie glanced from one to the other, and frowned.

"What's wrong?" Archie asked.

Bush shifted his weight, and looked at Horatio. "Is something wrong, Horatio?" His steady gaze challenged Horatio.

Horatio tried to smile, but he did feel a twinge of what he suspected was jealousy. "Everything is fine, Archie, especially now that you are getting better."

Archie nodded uncertainly, but all were aware of the tension in the room. Bush sat down. Archie glanced at him.

"How are you enjoying your visit, William?" he asked. He watched Bush over the rim of his teacup as he sipped.

Bush smiled and looked from Archie to Horatio and back. "It's a very good thing our leave isn't any longer, or I might need to buy a new uniform."

Even Horatio smiled at his comment, while Archie nearly choked on his tea as he started to laugh. Bush and Horatio hurried to grab Archie's teacup and him to keep him from choking. Once he'd stopped sputtering, the three of them collapsed into relieved laughter.

Archie suddenly grinned at Horatio and Bush, "That's better. Now, may I have my tea back?"

Bush handed him his teacup with a mild flourish. "It's good to see you feeling better, Archie, however, you are starting to look tired. Come, Horatio, let's let Archie rest." Horatio didn't move. "Mr. Hornblower," Bush's voice took on a note of command.

"It's alright, William. Horatio will let me rest," Archie said, quietly.

Bush nodded and left the room. Horatio watched until the door closed. He looked back at Archie who was calmly drinking his tea.

He sat down before asking, "Are you doing better?"

Archie nodded. "I still feel pretty miserable, but not quite as badly as I did. Besides, your father thinks I'm over the worst of it, so I must be getting better." He set his cup down on the bedside table. "You don't have to sit with me, Horatio. I will be fine."

"I'll stay until you fall asleep," Horatio answered.

Archie shifted uncomfortably, "Horatio..."

Horatio looked at him blankly before realization dawned, and he flushed deeply. "I'll just leave you alone then." he said, as he rose to his feet, and headed for the door.

Embarrassed, Archie watched the door close. He waited for a moment before reaching under the bed for the chamber pot. That need taken care of, he sighed in relief.

He grinned as he envisioned Horatio standing on the opposite side of the door waiting to come back in. Archie let him wait a few moments longer as he relished his solitude.

Horatio paced up and down before the doorway. He stopped and placed his ear to the wood, but didn't hear anything to tell him it was all right for him to re-enter. He sighed, and knocked.

"Come in, Horatio," Archie called.

Horatio peeked in the room. "You're..." he broke off. Archie gestured for him to come in, and then leaned back against the pillows.

"It's fine, Horatio. Thank you." Archie's eyes were deeply shadowed, and his breath rasped in his chest. His hair was slightly matted to his head where it had been soaked earlier. He gazed at Horatio questioningly as he noticed the frown of concern. "What is it?"

"Are you really feeling better, Archie?" Horatio asked. He glanced towards the door, so he missed Archie's slight smile.

"I don't think she'll show up here, Horatio," Archie's voice cut through his thoughts.

"Who?" Horatio turned back in confusion.

Archie started to chuckle, and it turned into a cough. However, the spasm didn't last long and was much less severe than it had been even an hour before. "The Duchess."

"What?" Horatio's eyes widened. Then he too let loose a small laugh. "No, I don't suppose she would." he conceded. "What made you think of that?"

Archie shrugged, but his smile remained. "Well, she did the last time we were like this. However, now if you think I'm too badly off, you can send for your father. That's comforting." He brushed his hair back, and grimaced at the dampness. "I've been very sick, haven't I."

He didn't give Horatio a chance to answer, but instead turned his attention to a small book laying on the bedside table. He couldn't hide his smile as he recognized it. Absently he leafed through the pages. Horatio watched him, as his stomach tied itself into a knot. He tried to read Archie's lips as he read to himself, but the movements were too small, and there was no sound.

"Archie? What book is that?"

Still smiling, Archie looked up for the page. "My volume of Henry Vaughan poetry. Someone must have unpacked it for me."

Horatio nodded. "That must have been my father. He probably was reading it while he sat with you." He broke off when he realized Archie wasn't listening. "Would you read some of it to me?"

For a long moment, the room was silent. Archie slowly looked up. "I don't know if you'd like it, Horatio."

Horatio's face was expressionless to all but Archie or his father - deep down he was hurt by Archie's observation, but tried to bury it. Archie saw the pain, but didn't acknowledge it. He simply began to read aloud.

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog mov'd there so slow,
He did not stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work'd under ground,

Archie paused. He looked up at Horatio, and waited. Horatio looked at him, his dark eyes troubled.

"Are you trying to tell me something, Archie?" he asked.

"That passage reminds me of you, Horatio." Archie answered. "You take responsibility for all that happens around you." He would have continued, but the door opened.

Dr. Hornblower stepped in. "It is time for my walk, and Margaret has insisted you accompany me." He briefly checked Archie's temperature, and nodded at how far it had dropped. "Archie is doing much better, but now we must let him get some rest." He saw the open book in Archie's hands, and smiled. "I see you found your book. Read it quietly, and William will be up to check on you after we return."

Archie grinned at Horatio, and nodded to Dr. Hornblower. He picked the book up as the door closed. Horatio and his father paused in the hallway for a moment. Dr. Hornblower took Horatio's shoulder, and guided him away from the door. Horatio reluctantly followed. Once they were downstairs, Bush met them in the foyer.

"Mrs. Dabney is working in the kitchen, and will check on Archie if he needs anything," he said as they reached him.

Mrs. Dabney appeared from down the hall, a small silver bell in her hand. "If we can just bring this to him." she suggested.

Bush held out his hand. "I'll do it. Will you be able to hear it with his door closed? If the door is open, it gets so cold in his room..."

Mrs. Dabney frowned. "I'm sure I'll be able to hear..."

Bush nodded, and started up the stairs, but was stopped by Horatio. "Margaret, you go into the kitchen, and we'll ring it from Archie's room with the door closed to see if you will be able to hear." The tense set of his shoulders relaxed as he was finally able to *do* something.

Dr. Hornblower hid his smile at his son's proposition. Bush mounted the stairs as Mrs. Dabney bustled into the kitchen with Horatio following. He could hear the murmur of voices from the kitchen, and the sound of Bush's footsteps from the upstairs hallway.

Mrs. Dabney took her bowl, and began mixing. "Now, you go on, Horatio. No one will be here to talk to me, so let me get back to your dinner preparations." she scolded lightly.

Horatio grinned as he left the room. His father handed him his greatcoat. From upstairs they heard the light tinkling of a ring. Horatio turned abruptly on his heel, and went back into the kitchen.

"I heard that perfectly well, now take your father out for his walk." She said, brandishing her wooden spoon at him.

"We will be back soon," he promised, as he left.

Bush met them at the base of the stairs. "Well?" he prompted.
"We all could hear, so we have been instructed to go out for our walk." Horatio said, a small smile coloring his voice.

"Did you hear the bell once or twice?" Bush asked, his expression serious.

Horatio and his father exchanged startled looks. They turned back to Bush.

"Once. How many times did you try?" Horatio asked.

Bush hid his grin at the sudden upsurge in Horatio's tension. "Good, otherwise I'd think you were hearing things, Mr. Hornblower." his voice was rich with amusement.

Dr. Hornblower disguised his laugh with a cough.

"I will be sure to tell Archie how well his suggestion worked," Bush continued as he began to grin.

"Most helpful, Mr. Bush," Horatio answered acidly with a disgruntled glare up the stairs. He shrugged into his greatcoat amidst his father's and Bush's laughter at his expense.

"He's never taken teasing well, William." Dr. Hornblower commented quietly as he wrapped his scarf securely around his throat.

Bush nodded, "We know. That's why Archie suggested it. He thinks it helps keep Horatio humble."

Dr. Hornblower buttoned his coat, "It might, at that," he agreed with a chuckle. He turned to Horatio who was still glaring up the stairs. "If we're ready..." he gestured for Horatio to open the door.

A brisk wind greeted them, and they hesitated for a moment. Dr. Hornblower took a deep breath, stuffed his hands deeply in his pockets, and walked outside. The sun was shining brightly on the freshly fallen snow, and every twig glimmered. Horatio and Bush followed a moment later. Together they broke a path to the road.

The bitter wind seemed to blow straight through their coats, and it wasn't long before all three of them were shivering. Horatio smiled slightly as he realized where his father was taking them. Bush saw his expression, and raised his eyebrows in sardonic query.

Horatio nodded towards the building ahead of them. "It's his favorite tavern. We'll be able to get something hot to drink and have a chance to thaw."

"Lead on, Dr. Hornblower," Bush said heartily.

Dr. Hornblower looked at them and smiled, "Not far now." He raised his hand in greeting.

"Happy Christmas, Julius," the vicar called.

"And to you, Vicar," he answered. "You remember my son, Horatio, and this is his friend, William Bush." Dr. Hornblower paused to make the introductions.

Horatio shifted uncomfortably, and ducked deeper into his coat. Bush glanced at him for a moment before extending his hand in greeting. As soon as the pleasantries were completed, Bush quickly stuffed his hand back into his pocket, and tried to control his shivering. Horatio saw the motion and grinned in sympathy.

"I thought young Mr. Kennedy was coming too," Vicar Michals said turning to Dr. Hornblower.

"He is resting," Dr. Hornblower replied. "Mrs. Dabney is taking good care of him."

"Very good, splendid," Vicar Michals said jovially. "Will we see you at services this evening?"

Horatio shifted his weight. Bush glanced at him, slightly perplexed since he was well aware of Horatio's views on religion. Dr. Hornblower sent his son a quelling glance. Horatio nodded, and looked down at his feet.

"Mrs. Dabney may be our representative this evening. As for the rest of us, it will depend on how Mr. Kennedy is feeling." Dr. Hornblower answered. "Now, the warmth and hot cider to be found at The Loaf and Mug calls."

The vicar nodded. "Go on, go on. I will speak with you more later."

Horatio began edging away. Bush made his farewell's and followed close on Horatio's heels. Dr. Hornblower was barely a step behind. They hurried towards the warm building. Horatio opened the door, and waved Bush and his father in before following.

"Close the bloody door!" a voice roared from inside.

"It's closed!" roared back the tavernkeeper good-naturedly as he hurried towards the newcomers. "Dr. Hornblower, sir, we didn't expect to see you today. Come sit by the fire."

He rapidly ushered them towards the fire. Dr. Hornblower smiled at Bush and Horatio over his shoulder. He fussed over them like a mother hen as they shrugged out of their greatcoats and mufflers.

"Some of your hot mulled cider, Timothy, for all of us," Dr. Hornblower requested.

"Right you are, sir." Timothy said as he moved away from the table. "Emily, hot mulled cider for the doctor and his company," he called as he made his way to the kitchen.

"You are well known here," Bush observed, as he watched the other men in the tavern nod and call out greetings.

Dr. Hornblower was about to reply when a man approached their table.

"Afternoon, Julius."

Bush and Horatio recognized his voice as the man who'd yelled for the door to be closed. They exchanged glances before turning to Dr. Hornblower.

"Robert, Happy Christmas. How are you and Mary?" Dr. Hornblower greeted.

"We're tolerable, Julius, but this infernal weather..." his words trailed off as he glowered at Horatio from beneath bushy white eyebrows.

Dr. Hornblower hid a grin, "May I present my son, Lt. Horatio Hornblower, and his friend and colleague, Lt. William Bush. They are currently serving under Captain James Sawyer on Renown." He turned his glance to Horatio and Bush. "This is Robert Simmons, an Able Seaman in his youth."

"And a Bosun's Mate after a time," Simmons rasped proudly. "You serve on Captain Sawyer's ship?"

Bush and Horatio glanced at each other before nodding.

"Do you know Captain Sawyer?" Bush asked, his tone guarded.

"Aye, when he were just a young lad. He'd just passed his examination for lieutenant. I were Bosun's Mate then," Simmons stared into the fire, his eyes focused on memories. "He were a spitfire, and that's the truth."

They were all silent for a moment as their cider was set down on the table. Dr. Hornblower nodded his thanks, while Bush and Horatio smiled their thanks up at Mary. Simmons nodded sharply which reminded them of the conversation.

Bush and Horatio glanced at each other. They all knew Captain Sawyer's reputation, but his time as a new lieutenant wasn't something which was much talked of, and they were curious. They wanted to ask more about him, but they didn't have to, Simmons continued.

"He were strict with the lads, but they needed it." he said with a sharp nod.

"He still is," Horatio said, his expression unreadable. Bush cleared his throat pointedly, and Horatio looked at him for a moment before nodding. Dr. Hornblower caught the look, but didn't interrupt.

Simmons didn't notice, he was still looking in to the fire. "The loyalty he inspired, it were a rare thing. Some o' the lads was afraid of him, but I weren't. He always had the good o' the ship and the service at heart. You knew you could trust him." Even after so long, Simmons seemed to still feel that fierce loyalty. "He must still be like that."

Horatio and Bush glanced at each other. Captain Sawyer's recent actions replaying in their minds. Neither knew what to say until Horatio remembered both Dr. Clive and Hobbs' absolute devotion.

"Aye, sir, he is indeed," Horatio answered. Bush tried to lock eyes with him, shocked, but Horatio wouldn't meet his gaze.

Dr. Hornblower, Horatio, and Bush finished their cider. The hot drinks and proximity to the fire had warmed them. Simmons lapsed into silence.

Bush pulled out his watch, and his eyes widened as he realized how long they'd been gone. "I think Mr. Kennedy and Mrs. Dabney are going to be worried for our safety," he quipped.

Dr. Hornblower and Horatio caught his hint. Together they rose. Simmons looked up from the fire.

"Leav'n so soon?" he asked gruffly.

"We must get home, Robert." Dr. Hornblower replied. "You stay here by the fire, and keep warm."

They made their way to the door where Timothy waited. They were tightly fastening their coats, and nearly strangling themselves with their mufflers. Timothy grinned broadly at their preparations.

"I'll just get the door - keep old Simmons from complaining," Timothy said.

"The cider was a treat, and now we find out what Mrs. Dabney has prepared for us. Take care of yourself, Timothy. Happy Christmas!" Dr. Hornblower said with a smile, and a tip of his hat.

Horatio and Bush also made their farewells, and, after bracing themselves, they left. They grinned at the good-natured grousing Timothy was subjected to as a result of the open door.

*******
Restless, Archie set down his book. He listened to the clock chime downstairs, and shifted when he realized how late it was getting. He slipped his feet over the edge of the bed, then froze as he heard footsteps in the hall.

Mrs. Dabney opened the door. She smiled fondly, as Archie quickly swung his feet back under the blankets. She set the tea tray on the table.

"You look much better today," she said with a smile. "Getting restless?"

Archie grimaced. "I thought they would be back by now." He coughed. Mrs. Dabney gently rubbed his back until the spasm eased. He leaned into the pillows, and gradually began to relax.

"That's better," Mrs. Dabney soothed. She poured some tea for him. "Drink this, it will help your throat."

"Thank you." Archie tried to inhale the fragrance, but he still couldn't smell. He sipped, and started to cough again as the potent liquid burned from his throat to his stomach. "That's not tea," he gasped.

"Oh dear, I should have warned you about the whiskey," Mrs. Dabney fussed. "I don't usually make entire pots of my hot toddies."

Archie took another, much more cautious, sip, and sighed. "I just wasn't expecting it, Mrs. Dabney, it's fine." He smiled at her. "Do you think Dr. Hornblower will let me come down to eat with you tonight?"

Mrs. Dabney didn't answer, but gently felt his forehead. "Your fever is down, so most likely he will. Do you feel up to joining us?"

Archie nodded. "Do you think I could have a bath first?"

"I'll heat the water." Mrs. Dabney answered kindly.

She bustled from the room, and Archie pushed himself upright in the bed. He grimaced when he realized how weak he felt, but he didn't want to spoil his holiday or Horatio's and Bush's. After a moment of dizziness, he slowly dropped his feet over the edge of the bed, and pulled himself to a standing position.

Archie could hear Mrs. Dabney working in the kitchen, along with the other sounds of the house. He reached into his bag for clean clothing, and laid it on the bed next to him. He heard Mrs. Dabney come up the stairs with water swishing in a pail.

"The rest of the water is heating, and should be ready in a few minutes," Mrs. Dabney called through the door as she passed.
Archie grinned, "Thank you, Mrs. Dabney," he called back. His grin broadened into a smile when he realized he'd been able to take a deep breath without coughing.

Mrs. Dabney bustled back downstairs to check on the water and dinner. Archie meandered gingerly around his room gathering up his things in preparation for his bath. He rubbed his chin, and smiled ruefully.

"Will my beard ever grow," he grumbled aloud. He chuckled slightly as a thought occurred to him. "At least it grows more than Horatio's."

He picked up his cup, and sat down in the chair by the fire. He took a tentative sip of his hot toddy, and waited for Mrs. Dabney to bring the rest of the water. He stared into the fire, and let his mind wander.

Archie was so lost in the flames that he didn't hear Mrs. Dabney walk past with the rest of the water. Since he hadn't responded to her call, Mrs. Dabney opened the door of his room. She hesitated when she saw him, and silently pulled the door closed.

He was seated in his nightshirt, with his bare feet stretched out to the fire. The open throat of the shirt revealed his chest, and his hair flowed about his shoulders. His skin was still pale, but he no longer was fever flushed.

Mrs. Dabney knew he hadn't seen her, and that he would be horribly embarrassed she had seen him. She waited a few moments before briskly knocking.

Archie nearly jumped out of his skin. "Yes? Is the bath water ready?" he called as he frantically looked for something to cover himself. Margaret opened the door a crack. "No, no, there's no need for you to come in," Archie's tone was slightly desperate.

Margaret smiled. "The water is ready. I'll be downstairs if you need me." She pulled the door closed and walked down the hall. She heard the door open, and kept going.

Archie watched her back until she was out of sight. He gathered his things, and snuck down to the bath room as quickly and quietly as he could. Once there, and with the door securely latched, he took off his nightshirt and underclothes. He dipped his fingers into the water, and, once he'd tested the temperature, sighed as he let his whole body slip into it.

He sank in until even his head was submerged. The soap was fragrant in his hands as he lathered his hair and body. He let the water support him. Archie didn't know how long he floated there, but the water began to cool around him.

********

Dr. Hornblower, Horatio, and Bush hurried towards the warmth of the house. They burst through the door gasping with the cold. Mrs. Dabney hurried from the kitchen.
"Let me take your wraps," she insisted. Dr. Hornblower grinned as she roughly unbuttoned his greatcoat, unwound his muffler, and somehow managed to take all of his things off in the space of her one sentence. "Go out into the cold... Don't come back for hours... Leave me here to cook and worry," she grumbled as she took Horatio's things, and added them to his father's.

"Thank you, Mrs. Dabney, but let me take care of my things," Bush said when it was obvious he was next to be relieved of his things. Hoping to distract her, he asked, "Did Archie need anything while we were gone?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle. He seems to be much better today - even a bit restless. He wants to join us for dinner."

Dr. Hornblower nodded, and started for the stairs. "I'll just check on him, and meet you in the parlor."

Horatio and Bush rather reluctantly headed down the hallway, but stopped when Margaret spoke.

"Julius, give Archie some time. He should be relaxing in his bath right now."

"His bath?" Dr. Hornblower smiled. "Did you suggest it?"

"He did," she replied with an emphatic nod.

"Well, well, well, Archie must be feeling better," Dr. Hornblower commented with approval.

Bush and Horatio, relieved by the news Archie felt well enough to want to be clean, entered the warmth of the parlor. Mrs. Dabney had placed the teapot, under a cosy, before the fire to stay hot. They gratefully poured themselves a cup.

In the foyer, Mrs. Dabney efficiently took care of putting their coats away. "I need to get back to the kitchen, my bread must be nearly ready. The duck is roasting, but I still have to make the sauce..." she kept muttering to herself as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Julius watched her in fond amusement. He thought back on how long he'd known her, and his smile broadened. He followed Horatio and Bush into the parlor. Horatio quickly poured another cup of tea for his father, and handed it to him.

"Archie is better?" Horatio asked.

Dr. Hornblower absently stirred his tea. "Margaret thinks so. His fever was down. I'll know more after I've had a chance to examine him." He sat down in the comfortable wing back chair facing the fire.
Horatio sat down in the matching chair, and stretched his legs towards the fire. Bush leaned against the mantle, and looked down at them. He drank from his cup, and set it back in the saucer.

"We told Archie I would check on him when we returned," he started.

Dr. Hornblower raised his hand, and Bush paused. "So long as the water is hot, and he is comfortable, let him stay in his bath," he advised.

Bush nodded as he set his cup down on the tea tray. Horatio began to rise, but his father caught his eye, and shook his head slightly. Reluctantly, he let Bush leave the room without him.

With a sigh, Bush pulled the door closed behind him, and strode towards the stairs. His chest tightened slightly in apprehension as he thought about the afternoon before when he'd done the same actions. *It won't be the same tonight,* he promised himself as he walked up the steps. He gritted his teeth as he approached the bathroom door.

"Archie?" he called tentatively. He heard water slosh in against the tub. "No, you don't need to get out."

"William? I didn't hear you come in. How long have you been back?" Archie called back.

Bush felt the knot of tension begin to release as he heard how much stronger Archie's voice was from even earlier in the day when they'd decided to play the joke on Horatio with the bell. "Did you need to ring for Mrs. Dabney?" he asked.

Archie giggled, and Bush grinned in response. "No, but the thought did occur to me a couple of times." The water sloshed again. "I'll get out."

Bush put his hand on the door. "No, I am under instructions to make sure you stay in until the water begins to cool. We aren't in any hurry, and you need to relax and save your strength. Dr. Hornblower will be checking on you before dinner, and then will decide if you are well enough to join us."

"Oh," Archie let himself back down into the warm water. "Do you think I could have some more hot water added?"

Bush smothered a laugh behind a cough. "I'll see what I can do," he answered.

Archie relaxed back in the water as he heard Bush's steps retreat down the hall. *It's somewhat mean of me to make him get more hot water for me,* he mused. He shrugged, and waited for Bush to return.

Bush quickly gave Archie's request for more hot water to Mrs. Dabney. When he finished, he went back into the parlor.

"Archie is still in his bath, and plans to stay there awhile longer," he said as he closed the door behind him. Horatio started to rise. Bush waved him back down. "Mrs. Dabney is going to notify us, me, when the water is ready, so I can take it up to him."

Dr. Hornblower smiled. "He must be feeling better."

Bush nodded. "I gave him your instructions, and that's when he asked for more hot water."

Even Horatio smiled in response to Bush's announcement. He turned, and hesitated with his hand on the doorknob.

"I should check on the water," he started. "Mrs. Dabney was fussing in the kitchen when I left."

Horatio rose. "I'll come with you," he suggested. "Between the two of us, we'll get Archie his water."

Dr. Hornblower watched them leave the room. He waited for Margaret to begin fussing, all the while doing whatever had been asked. Within a few moments, he heard her voice, but couldn't hear her words.

Bush reappeared a minute later. He walked to a chair slightly seperate from the ones Horatio and his father had chosen.

"She is heating the water?" Dr. Hornblower asked. He shifted so he could see Bush clearly. "Pull your chair closer. Enjoy the fire."

Bush shifted slightly. "I don't want to intrude," he started.

"Nonsense!" Dr. Hornblower scolded. "Warming yourself by the fire is never an imposition."

The door re-opened, and Horatio came in. Before the door closed, they could all hear Mrs. Dabney clanging pots and pans while muttering to herself. Horatio and his father grinned at each other.

"The water is nearly ready," Horatio said. He dropped into his chair with a contented sigh. "I'll bring it to him when it's ready."

Dr. Hornblower shook his head. "Let me, Horatio."

Horatio looked like he was about to argue, but at his father's cautionary look he finally nodded. Bush looked from one to the other, his expression unreadable.

They all waited silently, lost in thought. The easy camaraderie of the afternoon replaced with uncertain resentment. Mrs. Dabney broke the tableau by snapping the door open.

"The water is waiting. Now, I must get back to the bird."

With that, she turned on her heel, and disappeared down the hall. Dr. Hornblower rose stiffly to his feet. Horatio jumped up.

"At least let me carry the water for you..."

Bush also rose, his calm steadiness in sharp contrast with Horatio's almost vibrating tension. "No, I will carry the water as Archie asked," his simple declaration left no room for debate. When Horatio began to protest, Bush merely gestured for Dr. Hornblower to precede him, and turned his back on Horatio.

"I will meet you upstairs, Dr. Hornblower," Bush said as he headed for the kitchen.

Dr. Hornblower sighed as he heard Horatio's agitated footsteps pace around the room. His shoulders slumped as he walked up the steps.

A few moments later, Bush caught up with him. He caught Dr. Hornblower's arm and stopped.

"Yes, William," Dr. Hornblower asked.

"You and Horatio have been so protective of Archie that I feel I must ask this as Archie's superior officer," Bush started hesitantly. "Does he have a medical condition I should be aware of?"

Dr. Hornblower gazed down the hall. "We were worried about the possibility of influenza..."

"But not anymore. In fact, he is much improved. However, you are still worried about him," Bush pressed.

"When I bring him the water, which is cooling as we speak, I will quickly check him. That is why I insisted I deliver the water, if that was what you were wondering," Dr. Hornblower answered reasonably.

Bush still didn't look convinced, but he did start back down the hallway. *That sounds logical enough,* he thought, but he couldn't shake the feeling it sounded like a justification. He roused from his thoughts at the doorway to the bath. Dr. Hornblower took the pail from him, and rapped smartly on the door.

"I've got more hot water for you. May I come in?" Dr. Hornblower called through the door.

"Dr. Hornblower, yes, do come in," Archie called back. To Bush's ears, he sounded almost relieved.

Bush opened the door to allow Dr. Hornblower to enter the small room. Archie had twisted in the water so he was facing the door. When he caught sight of Bush, he first flushed and then paled. Bush nodded to him, and pulled the door closed.

Archie looked at the closed door for long moments. He finally began to relax when he realized Bush wasn't coming back.

Dr. Hornblower hauled the heavy pail to the far side of the tub.

"Pull your feet up," he ordered.

After Archie did as he was told, Dr. Hornblower upended the pail, and the hot water poured into the cooling bath water. Archie shuddered slightly as the water swirled around him. He stretched his legs forward, and sank further into the water.

"Thank you," he said.

Dr. Hornblower dismissed his thanks with a wave. "You sound much improved," he said as he pulled up a wooden stool and sat down. "I won't check your fever for awhile yet, but your voice sounds better."

Archie nodded. "My throat isn't as painful, and I'm coughing less. I'm even hungry."

"That is good news," Dr. Hornblower agreed. "Margaret's meal smells wonderful," he paused.

He hid a smile as Archie closed his eyes and sniffed the air. The delectable cooking smells filled the house. Archie sighed. Dr. Hornblower couldn't read his expression.

Archie's stomach growled audibly. "That does smell good," he answered through a giggle. "It's nice to be able to smell again."

Dr. Hornblower nodded. "Perhaps food will taste better, too. We don't know why, but when you can't smell it effects your ability to taste."

Archie grimaced. "I know." He picked up a bar of soap, and lifted it to his nose. When he sniffed, it smelled of lavender. "I really do feel much improved. I would like to join you for dinner." He looked up to see Dr. Hornblower watching him with a slight fatherly smile.

"We'll see. Margaret wouldn't want all her hard work to go to waste," Dr. Hornblower agreed. "After you get out, I'll check your fever and then decide. Ring for us if you want some help."

"Um, I think I left the bell in my room," Archie mumbled, chagrined.

Dr. Hornblower chuckled, "I'll just get that for you, and then go downstairs. Horatio has been worried about you."

After Dr. Hornblower left the room, Archie listened to him walk down the hallway. He mused on his parting words. *Horatio has been worried...* Archie shifted in the water. He frowned. *It always seems as though I'm the one who gets sick. Horatio stays with me worrying and helping, but, apart from his bouts of seasickness, he never gets sick.*

His thoughts were interrupted by Dr. Hornblower's reappearance with the bell. He was going to set it within Archie's reach and then leave, but the expression on Archie's face changed his mind.

"What's wrong, lad?" he asked, as he settled himself back into the chair, and pinned a penetrating look into Archie's eyes. "It's not your illness, so don't try blaming it on that."

Archie flushed guiltily. He started to shake his head, but saw Dr. Hornblower's eyebrows raise. "Did Horatio ever get sick as a child?"

"Of course," Dr. Hornblower replied. "He had his share of fevers, sore throats, and scraped knees. Why do you ask?"

Archie idly moved his fingers through the water. "He just never seems to come down with anything now."

Dr. Hornblower stifled a laugh. "Of course he does, Archie. He just never tells anyone. You know Horatio - he suffers in silence." They both were silent for a moment. "You still aren't well, but you are on the mend. It is not uncommon at your stage to be jealous of those who are healthy. Give yourself time, Archie. You are much improved from when you first arrived, but it will be a few days, a week, before you really feel like yourself." With that, he rose and left the room.

Archie sat in the water thinking about his words and advice. They made sense, but he wanted to be *well* before going back to the ship. His thoughts were interrupted by a coughing fit, but it was over quickly, and it didn't leave him gasping for air.

He noticed the water was starting to cool again, so he ducked under one last time to make sure the soap was completely rinsed from his hair. He rose, slightly unsteadily, uncertain whether it was from the effects of his illness or the hot toddies Mrs. Dabney had plied him with, and wrapped himself in the dressing gown warming by the fire.

Archie roughly dried his hair, and finger combed it flat. He opened the door to go back to his room, and shivered when the cold air in the hall swept into the room. Before he walked out, he looked back at the tub still full of water, and wondered what he should do with it. He decided to get dressed, and ask Mrs. Dabney later.

Quickly he headed for the warmth of his room. Once there, he flopped into the chair by the fire. He was tired even by that small exertion, but he was determined to join the others for Christmas dinner. Archie listened for the clock to chime - two hours until dinner would be served. He leaned into the wing of the chair, and let himself doze.

********

Dr. Hornblower rejoined Horatio and Bush in the parlor. He noted the strained silence, but refrained from comment until he'd settled himself in his chair before the fire.

"Father, how is he?" Horatio asked.

"He's getting better, but it will take more time before he's completely recovered," Julius replied calmly. "He wished to talk for awhile, and he is in complete control of his faculties. He can even smell again."

"What he had, has, isn't contagious?" Bush asked.

Julius looked at him for a moment before he answered. "It could be contagious, but it is not life threatening," he replied calmly. "Because of the temperature of the bath water, I could not check his fever, so I will check that after he is out for awhile."

Bush nodded, but stopped mid-motion by a sudden yawn. He flushed with embarrassment. Just as he opened his mouth to apologize, Dr. Hornblower gestured.

"You had the least sleep of all of us, William. Go, take a nap while you can. We have a couple of hours before dinner will be ready," Dr. Hornblower said gently.

Bush wearily nodded as he pushed himself to his feet. "I will look in on Archie on my way to my room."

Horatio also rose. "To insure you don't stay with Archie, I'll come with you."

Dr. Hornblower caught Horatio's arm as he passed. "If Archie is resting or doesn't wish to talk, leave him, Horatio. He no longer needs the constant observation of last night."

"I will leave him, too, if that's what he wants," Horatio grudgingly agreed.
Dr. Hornblower smiled as he watched his son and Bush walk from the room. He looked at the miniature of his wife, and his smile grew sad, "We raised a son to be proud of, my dear," he said to the picture. With a small sigh, he picked up a book, but before he'd read more than a few pages, he nodded off.

*******

Bush and Horatio climbed the stairs in silence. The was that increased tenseness between them, and Bush thought about how he could bring it up. Horatio saved him the effort.

"After we've check on Archie, you will leave," he blurted out tactlessly.

Bush looked at him in amusement. He stifled a yawn as he nodded. "I will. My bed calls to me, Horatio, and I cannot ignore it, even if I wanted to."

"Good," Horatio replied.

They could see the door to the bath was open, so they assumed Archie was back in his room. Bush's good humor reasserted itself, and he paused as they reached Archie's door.

"After you, Horatio," he said, his smile coloring his voice.

Horatio pushed the door open. He grinned as he saw Archie asleep in the chair. Bush saw Horatio's expression, and then caught sight of Archie. He took Horatio's arm, and backed them out of the room.

"We should both let him sleep," Bush said as he pulled the door closed. "If we stay up here, one of us will hear him if he needs anything." Horatio looked as though he was going to object, but Bush stopped him. "There is no place to sit in his room except on the bed. Go to your own room, Horatio, and review your seamanship books."

Horatio reluctantly agreed, and they pulled the door closed quietly behind them. Bush waited until Horatio moved in the direction of his room before crossing the hallway, and entering his.

Bush gratefully stretched out on his bed, but found he couldn't relax despite how tired he was. He flopped onto his back, and stared at the ceiling. All the concerns he had been hiding from Horatio and Dr. Hornblower about Archie and his illness rose to the forefront of his mind.

*What if it had been influenza? The whole ship would have been infected. Even whatever it is he does have could be contagious. Should we send word back to Renown, or just wait until we get back to find out if anyone else has gotten ill?*

The longer he lay, the more worries consumed him. He sat up, and almost got up, however, he caught himself on the way to the door. *William, Archie is getting better. His illness is not fatal. Get some rest!* he sternly told himself.

With a sigh, he took his own advice, and reached for one of his seamanship books. Before he had gotten ten pages in, his eyelids began to close, and his mind darkened with sleep. His last waking thought was, *I wonder how long until Mrs. Dabney announces dinner will be served....*

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

After he'd left Bush in the hallway, Horatio hesitated before restlessly going to his room. He leaned his back against the door, and struggled with himself. He began to pace.

After awhile, he didn't know how long, Horatio realized how loud his footsteps sounded. He stopped abruptly, and listened for any sounds from Bush or Archie's rooms. He sat down, and within moments he was drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair.

*Do I want to wake Archie up? * he asked himself. *Perhaps I should follow Bush's suggestion, and study.*

As the thought of Bush crossed his mind, Horatio felt a spurt of emotion. He paused to try to figure out what it was. It finally occurred to him it was jealousy. He was jealous of how much time Bush had spent taking care of Archie.

Horatio began to pace again his mind swirling with this revelation. He was so caught up in this new emotion he didn't hear the knock at the door, nor did he see the door open.

"Horatio," Archie said.

Horatio spun around in surprise. "Archie, did I wake you?" Before Archie could answer Horatio continued. "You look much better."

Archie looked down. He'd gotten dressed, and his hair was pulled back into a queue. He grinned at Horatio, and said, "Unfortunately, you look worse. And, no, you didn't wake me, my feet got cold."

"Are you feeling better?" Horatio asked anxiously.

Archie nodded. "Let's sit down and talk, Horatio."

The two young men sat down, and faced each other. Archie briefly considered the oddity of his logic in the face of Horatio's emotions, and the irony amused him. Horatio could see the amusement in Archie's face, but didn't realize he was the cause.

"Your father told me how worried you've been," Archie started.

Horatio quickly brushed away his concerns. "You were ill, of course I was worried."

"It was more than that, wasn't it, Horatio." Archie's tone brooked no argument. "In the past, you've always been the only one to sit at my bedside, and soothe my fevers," his voice was rich with irony. "This time your father and Bush were here to help."

Horatio nodded, "I'm glad they were."

"Even though they took over what has been your responsibility in the past?"

"It's not like that, Archie. I needed their help," Horatio answered defensively since Archie's words were too close to his own thoughts.

Archie looked at him in silence. Horatio rose, and began to pace again. Archie leaned back to watch him. The silence in the room was stifling.

"I wouldn't have known what to do if my father weren't here," Horatio blurted into the silence.

Archie shifted. "And Bush?" he pressed.

Horatio decided it was time to change the subject. "I'm sure my father will let you join us for dinner. Margaret is busy working on it. Doesn't it smell good?"

Archie refused to be diverted. "Horatio, you may be able to distract someone else, but it won't work with me. I know you are grateful for your father's help, and Bush..."

"He spent lots of time with you, even when you weren't aware," Horatio conceded. His voice was carefully neutral.

"Horatio," Archie protested.

Finally in exasperation, Horatio exploded, "What? Do you want me to say I was jealous? Fine, I was jealous."

Horatio sat down sulkily. Archie let his words hang in the air for a few moments.

"Both of you are my friends, and just because you didn't have to deal with my illness all on your own, doesn't mean I don't appreciate all that you did do," Archie answered quietly. "This is all part of friendship. If you did feel jealous, you weren't the only one."

"What are you talking about, Archie?" Horatio asked in confusion.

Archie shrugged. "You never seem to need help or get sick, and yet you always are ready to take care of me," he answered with a trace of bitterness.
Horatio stared at him, dumbfounded. "But, Archie, I get sick, and I need help." Archie looked back at him and cocked an eyebrow. "It's true. Even though I may not show it, I do need your help. As you said, it is all part of friendship."

Both men nodded, as they considered Archie's words. They made sense, and gradually the nasty feelings of jealousy began to dissipate. Archie watched the changing expressions on Horatio's face, and grinned when he saw Horatio relax.

The two friends sat in companionable silence. After awhile the smells from the kitchen began to make their mouths water.

"How much longer until dinner time?" Archie asked.

Horatio rose, and gestured for Archie to follow. They left the room, and knocked on Bush's door. When he opened it, he was greeted with smiles from both Archie and Horatio.

"Shall we see how dinner's coming?" Horatio asked.

Bush nodded, but didn't move. He looked at both men, his expression quizzical. He didn't sense the tension from before, but he didn't want to assume it was just gone without a few questions.

"How are you, Archie?" he asked.

Archie sneezed violently. "Much better," he replied with a sheepish grin.

Bush turned to Horatio, his voice wary, "And you, Horatio?"

With a grin at Archie, Horatio replied, "Much better."

"Very good. Shall we go find your father?"

"After you," Horatio answered, and gestured for Bush and Archie to precede him.

***********

Julius woke from his nap at the thundering footsteps on the stairs. He rose, and stretched stiffly. He smoothed his clothes and turned to face the door.

Bush entered the room first. He halted far enough into the room for the others to enter.

"Ah, William, you look much more rested," Julius said heartily.

He smiled when he saw Archie. His gaze rested on his son. The restlessness was gone, and his smile was easy. He glanced at the clock as the clatter of dishes in the dining room reached them.

"Margaret must be nearly finished with the meal, and will be ready to call us in a few minutes. William, Horatio, please go see if she needs any help."

"Of course, Father," Horato replied as he and Bush turned to leave the room.

Archie grinned confidently at them, but the effect was marred by a sniff. He walked over to Dr. Hornblower, and meekly submitted to his exam.

"You look much improved. Your fever is down," Dr. Hornblower mumbled as he finished the exam. "How would you like to join us for Christmas dinner?" he asked as the clock chimed midnight.

"It would be an honor," Archie replied.

The two men left the parlor, and entered the dining room. The table was set with places for all of them, and the food was waiting on the hutch.

Horatio, Bush, and Mrs. Dabney looked up at their entrance. They happily took their places around the table, and picked up their glasses.

"Happy Christmas," Dr. Hornblower said.

"To health and prosperity," Bush continued.

"To good food and family," Horatio said, with a smile to his father and Margaret.

"To friendship," Archie finished.

"Happy Christmas!" Margaret said through the tears in her eyes.

They raised their glasses and drank. Margaret rose, and brought the food to the table. Their voices and laughter rose to a happy cacophony.

The End.