ARCHIE'S RETURN
By Sue N.

RATING: Heck, give it a G; there's nothing in here Oldroyd couldn't
read
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these guys and don't pretend to. They're C.S.
Forester's (except for Pellew, who was created by the Almighty - and a
wonderful job it was, too!)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: It always seemed to me that at the end of "The Duchess
and the Devil," when Kennedy comes back to Indefatigable after so long
(I would put it at between two and three years) in prison, his return
is NOT met with all the attention one would normally expect of Sir
Edward. I consider this poor judgment on the part of the writers. So,
curious as to how such a scene might have played out, I simply sat down
one day and wrote it myself. This was posted previously on the HH Cast
board, but I submit it here again for those who might have missed it.

As we begin, we are in the midshipmen's berth aboard HMS Indefatigable,
perhaps only twenty minutes or so after our drenched and bedraggled
lads and lass have hauled themselves up through the gunport. And away
we go!

**********
Kennedy hurriedly did what he could to make himself presentable,
painfully conscious of a uniform soaked by a night spent fighting a
storm and grown appallingly shabby after some three years of
imprisonment. He would dearly have loved to change, but had no hope
that his sea chest had been kept aboard Indefatigable during his
absence. And even if it had, it would likely have been freely raided by
midshipmen in need of replacements for their uniforms.

Hornblower came quietly into the midshipmen's berth after having seen
to Miss Cobham's comfort, and his dark brown gaze went immediately to
his friend. He could clearly see Archie's nervousness in his clouded
blue eyes, pale face and shaking hands, and felt an immediate rush of
sympathy for him.

"How are you doing, Archie?" he asked softly.

Kennedy forced a smile that quickly faded. "I think I would almost
rather be back in prison," he quipped weakly, trying to revive his
flagging courage. But as he glanced again at the tattered coat he was
so desperately - and so fruitlessly - trying to brush clean, he again
grew despondent. "What a wretched sight I am!" he murmured. "Nothing at
all like what a naval officer should be."

Hornblower shrugged slightly. "You have been in prison for quite some
time, Archie. I doubt even the captain would expect you to look as if
you have just now stepped from an outfitter's shop in London."

"Nonetheless, it would be nice to have something a bit less threadbare
to put on. It will be bad enough having to stand before him and explain
all that has happened without also having to worry about my elbows
suddenly bursting through my coat!" He smiled again, once more trying
to joke away his anxiety. "Next time we go on a cutting-out action,
remind me to take an extra uniform, just in case."

ÝHornblower chuckled quietly. "I shall do- Wait a moment!" A thought
had been niggling at the back of his mind since he had entered, and now
it suddenly broke to the fore. "Here!" He hurried forward to the far
corner of the berth and swept aside the heavy cloaks hanging from pegs
set into the bulkhead. Kneeling, he leaned into the small recess,
rummaged through the various items stowed there, then, with a
triumphant cry, hauled out a sea chest. "There! I had almost forgotten
about it!"

Kennedy came to look over his friend's shoulder and felt a sudden shock
at the name etched into the lid. "My chest! How- "

Hornblower rose to his feet, smiling and shrugging. "I put it away
after your capture," he explained. "I intended to return it to your
family if ever I got to London, but I've never been able to. And I put
it back there, out of the way, to keep anyone from helping themselves
to its contents." His smile broadened, and he made a somewhat awkward
bow. "A change of clothes, sir. I would not exactly say ëfresh,' but- "
He glanced at the worn jacket Kennedy held. "Still, anything in there
is bound to be an improvement."

Kennedy returned the smile, his face and eyes cleared of all former
anxiety. "Thank you, Horatio! It would seem you have saved me yet
again."

Hornblower struck a comical version of an heroic pose. "It is all in a
day's work for an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Navy! Although,"
the pose faded as another thought came to him, "I would advise speed in
dressing. If we keep the captain waiting a moment longer than expected,
we shall both be in need of saving!"

**********
Pellew stood before the stern windows in his cabin and stared through
them at the now-quiet sea, his dark eyes narrowed against the glare of
sun upon water, his hands behind his back, the fingers of one tightly
gripping the wrist of the other in a habitual gesture. For all the
rigid severity of his stance, however, he was still reeling within from
the shock of seeing returned to his ship a young man he had long
thought lost to the service - if not to life itself - forever.

Standing beside the table, only a bit more relaxed than Pellew,
Bracegirdle regarded his captain with a slight frown, more than a
little confused by the other's apparent discomfiture. The safe return
of young Hornblower and the others from their imprisonment was surely
an occasion worthy of celebration. And he himself had witnessed the
captain's surprise and joy, a joy nearing elation, when Pellew had
welcomed his acting-lieutenant back aboard. But the unguarded
expression of those blessed few moments contrasted sharply with the
tightly closed face he wore now, and Bracegirdle could not help but
wonder at the change.

Yet when at last Pellew spoke, it was in the quiet tone that most often
revealed some inner disarray. "Mr. Hornblower is a young man of
exceptional enterprise and ingenuity," he said softly, still staring
through the large windows. "I find myself surprised by him yet again."

"Surprised, sir?" Bracegirdle repeated, his frown deepening. "By his
escape?" Lord, if any man were able to free himself and his men from
the Dons, surely it would be Horatio!

"That, too, yes, of course," Pellew breathed. Then, drawing a deep
breath, as if only now becoming truly aware of his surroundings, he
released his hands and turned briskly to face his first lieutenant,
inclining his head slightly and fixing a keen dark gaze upon
Bracegirdle. "But he has done far more than simply escape and return
his men to this ship, Mr. Bracegirdle," he said crisply. "He has also
restored to us a young officer I had never thought to see again, a
midshipman captured in action some three years ago. Taken by the
French, no less, in our action against the Papillon."

Bracegirdle blinked, his mouth falling open as utter surprise flooded
him. The cutting-out of the Papillon, he understood, had been effected
while the ship had been harbored in the Gironde. "In France," he
breathed, without knowing he did so. "How the devilÖ "

"Does a captive British midshipman get from France to Spain?" A knock
sounded at the cabin door, and Pellew arched a fine eyebrow. "I believe
we are about to find out. Come!"

The door opened, and two young men entered, one tall, gangly and dark,
the other smaller by several inches and fair. The taller of the two
exuded quiet confidence and self-command. His companion was quite pale
and visibly nervous, his blue eyes widening and flooding with anxiety
as the captain's sharp dark gaze came to rest upon him.
"You sent for us, sir?" Hornblower asked quietly, clasping his hands
behind his back.

For the moment, Pellew's whole attention was consumed by the young man
at his acting-lieutenant's side, and his expression revealed plainly
his astonishment. "Upon my word," he murmured softly, shaking his head
slowly as he approached the young man. "It is you, Mr. Kennedy! I had
almost begun to believe my eyes must have deceived me. I certainly
never expected to see you with us again."

Kennedy swallowed hard, unable to tear his gaze from Pellew's and
quaking violently within. "Nor I- to be here, sir," he answered at
last, his voice nowhere near as steady as he would have wished. He had
been dreading this moment above any other, had hoped against hope it
might never come. He would a thousand times rather be back in that
wretched little boat, fighting the storm, than here, facing Captain
Pellew and having to explain what seemed inexplicable.

Pellew read the fear in Kennedy's eyes, heard it in his voice, and was
persuaded by it to proceed more gently than was his usual manner.
Stopping an arm's length from the young man, he studied him carefully,
appraising him with eyes that had accurately taken the measure of
countless men in circumstances far more difficult than this. Kennedy
swallowed again, but held up under the scrutiny, neither flinching nor
shrinking away, a sign that he was, at least at present, in command of
himself and his fear.

Pellew next noted the young man's pallor, and frowned slightly. Kennedy
had the blanched appearance of one who had been out of the sun, and
ill, for quite a long time. Gone without a trace was the deep tan, the
weathered skin, borne by all who made the decks of a ship their home,
replaced by the sickly pallor that spoke of dank cells and suffering.

"When last I saw you," Pellew said quietly, "we were preparing to take
the Papillon out of the Gironde. How is it, sir, that you have been
returned to us from Spain?"

Kennedy swallowed again and ran his tongue slowly over dry lips. His
hands were held tightly behind his back, his fingers fiercely gripping
his wrists, more from desperation than discipline. He was keenly aware
of Horatio standing at his side, and was intensely grateful for that
silent support. Still, at this moment, he knew he must stand on his
own.

"I- had been given- to the Dons, sir," Kennedy said softly, his blue
gaze still riveted to the captain. "After- after my capture," he was
trying desperately not to stammer, and was not at all certain he was
succeeding, "I was taken to- the fortress at Blaye and held there- for
some time." Merciful God, he was thirsty! "And it was while I was there
that- I made my first attempt at escape." A sudden expression of
bitterness and pain crossed his face. "And I almost made it!" he
whispered miserably, remembering with a pang how close England - home -
had seemed then, and how easy - how deceptively easy - getting back
there had seemed.

Pellew frowned and stepped closer, his dark eyes, not at all unkind,
intent upon the young man. "Your first attempt?"

Kennedy dropped his gaze and nodded silently, but immediately
remembered himself and raised his head. "Yes, sir," he answered softly,
still trying to keep his voice steady. Even at his most approachable,
Captain Pellew remained an imposing figure of capability and command,
and Kennedy did not relish having to admit failure, repeated failure,
to him. "I knew- it was my duty to escape and return to my ship, or to
England- Each time I tried, I was punished, and moved further from
England. From temptation, they said. After the fourth attempt, they
simply gave me to the Dons. And when I tried to escape from them, they-
" His voice faltered and he bowed his head, closing his eyes tightly
and only barely suppressing a shudder.

Concern knifed through Pellew and he stepped closer still, all earlier
sternness gone completely from him. "Mr. Kennedy?" he called softly.
"Are you all right?"

Kennedy drew a slow, unsteady breath, trying to fight back the horror.
"I am sorry, sir," he whispered, managing to raise his head and meet
the captain's anxious gaze, paler than ever. "But I- still have
nightmares- "

"It was an oubliette, sir," Hornblower put in quietly, remembering only
too well his own experience with that dark and hellish place. "A hole
in the ground, with no room to stand up or lie down. They held him in
there for a month."

"My God!" Pellew breathed, echoed by an equally horrified Bracegirdle.

Wanting to give Archie time to recover himself, Horatio continued, "The
Dons placed Mr. Hunter and myself in the same cell as Mr. Kennedy. I am
certain they had no idea at the time we had been shipmates. When we
found him, he was- quite ill, unable even to walk. But I was determined
not to leave that place without him, and so delayed making any attempt
at escape until he was strong enough to come with us."

It was baldly stated, and left out many ugly details. Kennedy was
deeply grateful for his friend's discretion, but could not in honesty
let it go at that.

"Mr. Hornblower understates the case, sir," he said, his voice soft but
steady. "When he found me, I was nearly mad. I had given up, you see,
and was no longer fit to be an officer." Humiliation churned through
him in bitter waves at the memory of what he had become. "I no longer
cared about getting away, getting home, getting back to the war. I no
longer cared about anything. All I wanted- was to die."

Pellew and Bracegirdle exchanged silent glances, each trying to imagine
the agony he must have suffered. For an older man, an experienced
officer, such an ordeal would have been hellish enough. But for one so
young-

"Mr. Hornblower saved me, sir," Kennedy went on, "as surely as he saved
those Spanish sailors. If not for him, I would still be in prison, mad,
or dead. He is the only reason I am here now."

Studying the young man intently, Pellew clasped his hands once behind
his back and frowned deeply, his fine brows knitting as his eyes and
mind focused on Kennedy. To the men who served under him, it often
seemed that the captain could stare into a man's very soul, taking in
every aspect of his being, and now Pellew fixed that same all-seeing
stare upon his midshipman.

"No," he said at last, quietly, thoughtfully, his gaze still intent
upon Kennedy. "I do not believe, sir, that any man, not even our
exceptional Mr. Hornblower, can save another entirely against his will.
Surely, Mr. Kennedy, you contributed something to the effort?"

Kennedy swallowed hard, his fragile self-confidence crumbling beneath
that unwavering dark gaze. "I- had nothing to contribute, sir," he said
in little more than a whisper. Unable any longer to meet it, he let his
gaze slip from the captain's, his soul awash in self-loathing. "I had
failed in my duty to help take the Papillon, and was captured because
of my own weakness. I failed repeatedly in my duty to escape from
prison, and, in the end, gave up trying. I did not consider there was
anything worth saving."

"And yet you helped rescue Spanish sailors - sailors whose countrymen
had cruelly tortured you - in the teeth of a brutal storm," Pellew
countered. "You took your place aboard a small fishing boat and pulled
enemy sailors from a reef that had already destroyed a sloop,
imperilling your life to save theirs. Why?"

The question took Kennedy entirely by surprise. He raised his head and
frowned, not entirely understanding what the captain was asking. "Sir?"


Pellew inclined his head sharply, arching his dark brows and glancing
first at Hornblower, then back to Kennedy. "Why, Mr. Kennedy?" he
demanded curtly. "Why pull enemy sailors from the sea where we, your
former shipmates, had worked so hard to send had worked so hard to send
them?"

A spark of indignation flared in Kennedy and he straightened, meeting
the captain's probing gaze more easily. "It had to be done, sir," he
answered without hesitation, startled by Pellew's seeming callousness.
"They are the enemy, I know, and it is our duty to see them stopped.
England's survival depends upon their defeat. But to kill a man in
battle is one thing. It is expected, and we all accept the fact that we
may die under another's guns. But to stand idly by and watch men die
when one might help them- When we sink a ship in battle we do not
hesitate to pick up survivors. It did not seem that being on land
altered our obligation to help those men in the least. Sir," he added
hastily.

Pellew fought back the smile teased forth by the young man's bold words
and tone, his intuition confirmed. "Well, I see you were not quite so
defeated as you thought, Mr. Kennedy," he said with wry amusement.
"Though I dare say that if you and Mr. Hornblower remain intent upon
rescuing every poor devil we try to send to the bottom, this war will
drag on forever! Hopefully you shall manage to curtail such heroic
urges in the future. No sense in giving the enemy any more advantage
than he already enjoys."

Despite the captain's gruff tone, a faint smile curved about Kennedy's
mouth and his fear dropped from him like a weight. He was abruptly
reminded of his father, who often blustered in just such a manner to
conceal a most unlordly moment of tenderness. "No, sir," he answered
easily.

"Yes, well," Pellew breathed, turning his gaze upon Hornblower and
shaking his head in bemusement. "As ever, Mr. Hornblower, your capture
proved providential, to say the least! Not only have you managed to
restore a handful of sailors to His Most Catholic Majesty's service,
you have also managed to return an officer to His Britannic Majesty's.
And I believe we are all agreed that one British officer is equal to an
entire ship's compliment of Dons. Mr. Kennedy," his voice turned brisk,
immediately drawing the young man to attention, "I am delighted to have
you back, and to count you again among my company of officers. Be
assured that you have been missed."

Now Kennedy struggled not to smile, strained to maintain the solemn and
dignified bearing proper to an officer. "Thank you, sir," he said. "I
am most eager to return to my duties. I have been too long away."

"Very well, then." Pellew squared his shoulders and lifted his head,
again clasping his hands behind his back. "You will take your place in
the midshipmen's berth, and will be added to the watch." He smiled
slightly. "I trust we shall be able to find something for you to do."
He turned and indicated Bracegirdle with an elegant hand. "This is Mr.
Bracegirdle, first lieutenant. No doubt you shall have ample
opportunities in future to become acquainted."

"Sir," Kennedy murmured, bobbing his head to Bracegirdle, who smiled
and returned the greeting.

"That will be all, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew said. "Welcome back."

"Thank you, sir," Kennedy said with new strength in his voice, his eyes
as blue and as clear as the sea after a storm.

"I am very glad to be back."

~~THE END~~


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