Another Way to Serve
Part 4

by Kathy Kirchner
(chapter 8 by Bobbi Meislohn)

Chapter One

Horatio Hornblower was in an exceptionally fine mood. It was a beautiful day, Retribution was back home again after an arduous campaign, and he was looking forward to seeing his old friend, Archie Kennedy. It had been many months since they had last parted, shortly after the marriage of his 1st Lieutenant, William Bush, and the lovely Emily James, and Horatio was anxious to catch up on events with Archie. It bothered him a bit that he had not had any message from his friend in the entire time Horatio had been at sea, but he put that down to the unreliable method of sending letters to a ship on patrol, rather than a deliberate avoidance on Archie's part. Well, thought Horatio with a chuckle, it was probably just as well that he had received no letters from him. Archie's penmanship was atrocious, and had Horatio attempted to read it while aboard ship, he no doubt would have had his worst bout of seasickness ever.

It took Horatio several hours to file his report at the Admiralty, but finally he was given his leave. As was his usual custom, he stopped by the office of his longtime friend and mentor, Commodore Sir Edward Pellew for a brief visit. Indefatigable lay at anchor, so he knew he would probably catch the Commodore in his office, and hopefully Archie would have time off the ship to visit.

The door to Pellew's office was open. Horatio knocked, and poked his head inside.

"Good morning, Commodore," he said with a grin.

Pellew looked up, and Horatio was startled by his appearance. The man looked as if he had not slept well in weeks, and his dashing uniform seemed to hang loosely on his frame. Nevertheless, his face lit up when he saw Horatio.

"Mr. Hornblower! This is truly a delight! Please come in, and tell me of your latest adventures! How is Lieutenant Bush doing as a happily married man?"

Horatio moved inside, closed the door, and took a seat across from Pellew. For a few minutes, they discussed the latest campaign and Retribution's participation in it. Horatio could see Pellew visibly relaxing as they discussed the war and the Navy. Finally, he brought the conversation to a different tack.

"Sir, begging your pardon, but is everything all right?"
Pellew looked up quickly, and spoke in a much sharper tone than he had intended. "Why would you ask that, Mr. Hornblower?"
Horatio refused to be intimidated. "With all due respect, sir, you look rather - tired, sir. Has the Admiralty been pushing you too hard?"
"Bloody hell!" roared Pellew, causing Horatio to jump in his chair. "Damn bloody Admirals never know what they bloody want, and by the time they decide what they DO want, they bloody well want it done yesterday!" Pellew stopped, and put a hand to his face. He was very glad at that moment that Horatio had thought to close the door behind him. He continued on, his voice somewhat quieter. "My apologies, Mr. Hornblower. My mood really has nothing to do with the job, although there are so many times when all I wish is to be back on the Indefatigable, and out of this god-forsaken office. Thank god I still retain command of her, else I should surely lose my mind."

Horatio was growing concerned. "Sir, is everything all right at home? Your wife?"
"She is fine," answered Pellew tiredly, "though I fear I have not been as attentive to her lately as I should be."

Horatio leaned forward. "Can you not tell me, sir? Is there nothing I can do to help?"

Pellew shook his head. "It is not any one thing, Mr. Hornblower. Rather, it is simply a culmination of many things - the pressures of this job actually being the least of it. Now, if you do not mind, sir, I wish to speak of other matters. Are you unattached for dinner?"

Horatio leaned back in his chair and grinned. "Well, sir, as a matter of fact, I was hoping to meet up with Mr. Kennedy for dinner. Perhaps you would care to join us?" Horatio didn't notice the black cloud that darkened Pellew's face at Archie's name.

"No, Mr. Hornblower, I do not believe that will be possible."

"Oh," said Horatio disappointedly. "I was hoping he had liberty to join me here in port tonight. I haven't heard from him in months, and I should very much like to see him again. Sir, will he be able to leave ship and come ashore? Could I possibly give you a message to take to him?"

Pellew looked distinctly unhappy and uncomfortable, and this time Horatio caught his expression.

"Sir! Is Mr. Kennedy all right?"

"That, Mr. Hornblower, is something you will have to decide for yourself."

Fear clutched at Horatio's heart, and he rose to his feet. "Sir, I don't understand. Has something happened? Is Mr. Kennedy hurt?"
Pellew would not meet Horatio's eyes, and he began to feel real panic. Fighting to keep his voice level, he said, "Sir, please tell me. I must know if he is all right."
Pellew sighed. "As I said, you will have to see him and decide for yourself. If he remains true to form, you will find him at The Sea Serpent - he keeps a room there, on the second floor. Room number three."

Horatio put his hand on the doorknob. "Sir. With your permission..."

Pellew nodded heavily. "Dismissed, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio opened the door, and Pellew spoke again. "Horatio. I just want you to be prepared."

Horatio felt as if a knife were stuck in his gut. "Prepared for what, sir?"

Finally, Pellew met his gaze. "Just, prepared."

Horatio was almost shaking as he left the office. Why was Pellew being so secretive?

 

 

Chapter Two

Horatio wanted to run through the streets, but somehow managed to force himself to keep at a pace befitting an officer in His Majesty's Navy. Inside, however, was a different story. Confusion filled his mind. If Archie had been hurt, surely Pellew would have said so, and Horatio could think of nothing that could possibly have put that look on the Commodore's face. "Be prepared," he had warned Horatio. Dear God - prepared for what?

Horatio had never heard of an inn called The Sea Serpent, and in his haste to leave, had not thought to ask Pellew for directions, so he ducked into a nearby shop to ask the location. The shopkeeper looked at him strangely, and inquired why a gentleman such as himself would be looking for THAT place. He did, however, give Horatio directions. To his surprise, the inn was located very deep within the city - well away from the ocean. That didn't sound at all like Archie, who was always a sailor at heart, even when spying in France.

Eventually, Horatio came to an inn, and he stopped in front of it, gazing at it in dismay. Surely, this couldn't be where Archie was staying. He looked again at the sign hanging crookedly over a gaping door. The Sea Serpent. Yes, this was the place. He shook his head and went inside.

The interior of the inn was very dark, and it took Horatio's eyes a few minutes to adjust. He frowned as he looked around. This was not an inn, as he had expected it to be. Instead, it was a pub, and an absolutely filthy one at that. Over in one corner, an old man was sprawled in a chair, evidently passed out from drink. There were several other patrons, all seemingly drunk as lords (but considerably dirtier), and several women who were obviously plying their trade to any of the men in the room. One of the women spied Horatio, and smiled at him. As she began to move across the room towards him, Horatio frantically looked for the stairway. The second floor, Pellew had said. Ah, there it was. He strode purposefully across the room and ascended the staircase. He could almost feel the woman's disappointment following him upstairs, and he shuddered, wondering why on earth Archie would choose to stay in this place. When all was said and done, Archie was the son of a Lord, after all, and surely would never elect to live in such squalor.

Horatio paused in front of room number three, took a deep breath, and knocked. The door opened, and he heard Archie's voice say, "It's about bloody TIME you got here with that rum. We've - " His voice broke off as he spied Horatio.

For his part, Horatio was speechless. Yes, it was Archie Kennedy in front of him, but he was barely recognizable. His blond hair was long and unkempt, and it looked as if he had not washed for several days. Even though it was barely after noon, Horatio could smell the rum emanating from him. Archie's white shirt was dirty and stained, and completely unbuttoned. His feet were bare. Horatio gaped at the sight, then raised his gaze to meet Archie's. What he saw caused him to take a step backward, despite himself. Archie's blue eyes were brilliant with venom and hatred - and it was directed at Horatio Hornblower himself.

Archie turned away from the doorway, and snarled at someone in the room "We're done here, now get the bloody hell out!" Horatio heard giggling, and then his eyes widened as two barely dressed young women came to the door. They eyed Horatio with frank delight, but all he could do was stand there with his mouth open. The girls giggled again, then looked back at Archie, who reached into his pocket and tossed some coins at them. Still giggling, the girls scampered down the stairs.

Archie turned away and started to close the door. Regaining his wits, Horatio stepped forward and put his hand on the door, keeping it open. He followed Archie into the room and closed the door, and the two of them were alone.

Horatio looked around the room. It was nothing to speak of - a small table and chair, a dresser with a washbasin - empty, Horatio noticed - and a rumpled, unmade bed. Several empty liquor bottles were scattered in various places on the floor. Well, there was no question as to what had been going on here, but still, Horatio had to ask.

"What is this, Archie?" he said quietly.

Archie snorted. "Damn, Hornblower, I knew you were an innocent, but I should think I wouldn't have to explain this even to you."

Horatio bit back the retort that sprang to his lips, and looked at Archie. "I mean, what are you doing here, in this place, drunk, with two - " he swallowed, unable to even speak the word. "This is not the Archie Kennedy I know."

Archie laughed, an empty, bitter sound that Horatio had not heard since Archie tried to starve himself in those dark days of El Ferrol. "The truth is, Hornblower, I did not care for that man, so I disposed of him. What you see before you is the new, improved Archie Kennedy." With that, Archie put his hand to his chest and performed a sweeping, exaggerated bow.

"Stop it, Archie. You know what I mean. What of the Archie Kennedy who was so afraid of love and intimacy? It certainly appears that you have overcome THAT fear, in quite spectacular fashion."

Archie leaned against the wall, with his arms folded across his chest, and his face like stone. "Sex is not intimacy, Hornblower, and love is really quite over-rated." He shrugged. "But, even so, I still managed to fail in that, as I eventually fail in everything I attempt."

Understanding hit Horatio like cannon-fire. "Archie," he whispered. "My God. This is about Emily."

Archie turned away and didn't answer.

Horatio moved over next to him, and put a hand on his shoulder. Archie swatted it away as if were merely a pesky bug, and Horatio felt his own heart breaking. "Archie. You told William and Emily that you were honestly happy for them, and you wished them only the best."

Archie turned back to Horatio, a sneer marring his perfect features. "I always WAS a good actor, Hornblower, when I had to be. Though of course, I failed in that pursuit, too."

"Archie, please stop saying that. You have NOT failed in everything. You have failed at nothing - you have certainly never failed me."

"Don't be such a bloody SOT!" screamed Archie. "I don't need you to feel sorry for me! Now get the hell out of here and leave me alone."

Horatio didn't move. "I will not leave, Archie."

"Right," said Archie quietly. "Then I will be the one doing the leaving."

"So, that's the way the new Archie Kennedy handles things, is it?" Horatio's voice was rising. "He just runs away? Sounds a lot to me like he has something in common with another Archie Kennedy - one who lived in Justinian, and El Ferrol - "

"Damn you to hell!" shot back Archie. "You insufferable, self-centered, uncaring son of a - " and his fist flew out, catching Horatio on the chin, and sending him sprawling.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

Rubbing his aching chin, Horatio slowly regained his feet and drew himself to his full height. Twice now Archie had slugged him!

"Striking a superior officer, Mr. Kennedy? Perhaps you enjoyed your appearance so much at that last court martial, that you now desire one of your own?"

The two men stared coldly at each other. Horatio refused to back down. It was Archie who looked away first.

"Very well, Commander Horn Blow Er," he said, sarcasm oozing from every word. "Arrest me then. You always do what you want, anyway."

Horatio could see that there would be no reasoning with Archie today - he had been spoiling for a fight from the moment he saw Horatio. So, he decided, it would be superior officer to junior officer, not friend to friend. Maybe when Archie worked off some of that rum.....

"Explain yourself, Lieutenant," he commanded, standing tall and clasping his hands behind his back.

Archie glared at him. "What?"

Horatio waited, merely raising an eyebrow.

"Excuse me," sneered Archie. "Explain what, SIR."

"Explain what you meant by I always do what I want anyway."

Archie looked at him angrily. "Permission to speak freely, SIR?"

"Denied. Explain yourself."

Archie was still fuming, that much was obvious, but apparently all his years of Naval discipline were overtaking his emotions. "I believe it to be self-explanatory, sir."

"You believe incorrectly, Lieutenant. Explain your remark."

Archie seemed to come to a decision. He squared his shoulders, and drew himself to attention, his eyes focused on the wall behind Horatio. "My meaning, sir, was only that the Commander did not have the best interests of this Lieutenant at heart, sir."

THAT got Horatio's attention. "Is that just in general, Lieutenant, or is there a specific incident you have in mind?"

Archie was obviously calming down now. His eyes still concentrated on the wall, he answered quietly, "One specific incident, sir."

Horatio relaxed. "Very well, Mr. Kennedy. Permission to speak freely."

Archie turned his gaze to Horatio, who was struck by the anguish in the bright blue eyes.

"You KNEW, Horatio," he whispered. "The night of the reception, you knew about Bush and Emily, and you let me babble on - in front of Commodore Pellew. You let me make an absolute fool out of myself, in front of the man that I owed everything to: my life, my freedom, my honor - everything."

"Archie! You did not embarrass yourself! If anything, the Commodore was touched by your expression of love and devotion -"

"To a woman who loved someone else!" Archie cried. "God, Horatio, do you have any idea how mortifying that was? And you could have stopped me! Why did you not? Were you afraid that I would make a scene in front of Pellew? Have a fit? Well, I took care of that, believe me. Nice, big emotional exhibition when he came to see me here, in this place. I would have been the toast of Drury Lane. And do you know what I saw in his eyes, Horatio? Disgust. Pure, simple, plain, unadorned disgust. For me. I kicked him out, Horatio. At least HE had the grace to leave when I asked, unlike someone else."

Horatio was dumbfounded. "You kicked him out? How drunk WERE you, Archie?"

Archie shrugged and sat down on the bed. "Drunk enough that he has removed me from duty." At Horatio's intake of breath, Archie glanced at him and said, "Oh, not officially. For the record, I still report to him, although I have been temporarily replaced on the Indy by Third Lieutenant Crane. In truth, the Commodore and I have not spoken in months."

Horatio sat next to Archie on the bed, feeling his friend instinctively flinch away from him, and he once again cursed Jack Simpson for what he had taken from Archie. "Why, Archie?" he said softly. "Why are you doing this to yourself?"

Archie looked into empty air, and spoke so faintly that Horatio had to strain to hear. "Because she left me, Horatio. She left me for a man I once considered my friend. She was what kept me going all that time in France - my thoughts were always on her, keeping me anchored. I believed she loved me as deeply as I loved her, but I was wrong, and she left me. Like everyone else I've ever known, she left me behind. So now, I have nothing. No Emily, no career, no Pellew, nothing. Even you only look upon me with pity."

Horatio shook his head. "No, Archie," he said with conviction. "You're wrong. You still have me, and you still have Pellew. Now I understand why he looked so tired - he has been worrying about you all this time. Please, Archie, let us leave this place. We will get you cleaned up, eat a decent meal, and then we shall go see Pellew together."

Archie stood up abruptly. "You think it is that easy, Hornblower?" he snapped. "You think to come in here, speak a few pretty phrases of friendship, and I will meekly follow wherever you lead? I will not, sir, I will not. Now I asked you once already to leave me be. Must I ask again?"

Horatio stood slowly, a little perplexed by Archie's continual mood swings. "Very well, Archie, if that is what you truly want."

"It is."

"Then I take my leave of you, my friend, but I shall return. Apparently, we still have much to discuss."

Archie shrugged. "As you please, Horatio, as you please. But nothing will change."

Horatio walked slowly downstairs, deep in thought. As he passed through the pub, the same woman from before came up to him and put her hand on his arm. Rudely, Horatio pushed her hand away, just as Archie had done to him upstairs. The woman stared after him, hands on hips and a pout on her painted lips, but Horatio ignored her. He had more important things on his mind. He had to confront Pellew.

 

 

Chapter Four

The journey back to Pellew's office seemed to take forever. Horatio had plenty of time to reflect on what had transpired in that room, and he kept coming to the same conclusion. There was more to Archie's anger than that of a jilted lover - there had to be. But what? Was it merely embarrassment over Pellew seeing what Archie had become? Was it his feelings of abandonment? Whatever it was, surely this temper he was in couldn't last. Horatio shook his head. He had no answers. With any luck, perhaps Commodore Pellew did.

Finally, Horatio arrived back at Pellew's office. Before he could raise his hand to knock, the door opened wide, and Pellew asked him to come in. The two men sat down.

"How did you know I was here, sir?" questioned Horatio.

Pellew looked down. "I have been watching for you, Horatio. I knew you would come back here after...." He didn't finish the thought. Horatio waited for him to continue. Finally, Pellew looked up. Horatio had never seen such weariness in the man, not even after the debacle at Quiberon Bay, or following any of their long voyages. Pellew's voice was almost hoarse when he finally spoke.

"You saw Mr. Kennedy." It was a statement, not a question.

Horatio nodded. "Yes, sir, I did."

Pellew didn't answer, merely waiting for him to go on. Horatio was struck by the thought that the Commodore almost looked like the villagers on their way to the guillotine in Muzillac - resigned. Yes, that was it. Resigned.

"Sir, what happened?" he asked in honest bewilderment. "When last I left here, Archie was fine. Oh, yes, I knew that he was hurting some about Bush and Emily, but he assured me that he would be quite all right. And now I return, to find him living in filth, drunk, and sharing his...." Horatio stopped, horrified. He didn't need to tell the whole story. The Commodore needn't know about the two young girls.

Pellew, however, was nodding his head sadly. "I take it he had a young, um, lady with him."

"Er, two, actually, sir," Horatio answered, flushing a bit.

Pellew's eyes widened slightly at that, and he shook his head. "I wish I had an answer for you, Horatio. Mr. Kennedy's descent began almost immediately after Retribution sailed last. He stayed away from me as much as possible while aboard ship, and any reports I received from him while ashore came by messenger, so I really had no idea what was happening. Then one day, young Emily came to see me. She was worried about Mr. Kennedy. Whenever we have been in port, he has been staying at the Dragon. It seemed, however, that he had abandoned his room there, and was nowhere to be found. A friend of hers had mentioned to her that she had seen someone resembling Mr. Kennedy, lying passed out in the alley outside of a tavern. Miss Emily did not believe that it actually was Mr. Kennedy, but as you have seen for yourself, it is very possible that it was."

Horatio stood up. He could not keep the dismay off his face or out of his voice. "Passed out in the street, sir? Like a, a common drunkard?"

Pellew inclined his head, and sighed. "I do not know what to do, Mr. Hornblower, truly I do not. I have protected Mr. Kennedy as best I can, but I am not sure how much longer I can continue to do so. And I do not know that I should."

Horatio, who had begun pacing the office, spun around at that. "Sir! You cannot mean that!"

"Indeed I do."

"But sir! It is Mr. Kennedy! He may be going through a difficult time right now, but he will get beyond it - you know he is at heart a good man. I know your feelings for him..."

"My feelings are irrelevant!" barked Pellew, slamming his fist on the desk. "He is a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy, and by GOD, sir, I will no longer tolerate his despicable behavior! This has gone on for far too long." Pellew's voice quieted. "And so, Mr. Hornblower, I am charging you with his rehabilitation. You are the one who knows him best, and I believe you to be the only one who can break through the wall he has built around himself. You have done it, before, sir, and I pray you may again be successful. You must be, else I fear Mr. Kennedy shall be lost to us forever. You must bring him home, Horatio."

Horatio sat down heavily in the chair across from Pellew, and bowed his head. He knew Pellew was right. Archie had no one else, and despite everything, he could never abandon his friend. He was at a loss, though, as to where to start. He wasn't sure Archie would even agree to see him again, and if he felt that Horatio was judging him, or being condescending towards him, there was no telling how he would react. And that, Horatio realized, scared him. Archie's moods were so varied that there was no predicting them. He would have to start all over, and win Archie's trust again.

Horatio raised his head and met Pellew's gaze. "I understand, sir. I will do my best."

Pellew nodded. "That is all I can ask, Mr. Hornblower. How will you begin?"

Horatio stood up. "I will begin with the only other person who knows Archie as well as I. I must speak to Emily Bush."

 

 

Chapter Five

Horatio arrived outside the Bush's residence, and knocked upon the door. A servant answered.

"Commander Horatio Hornblower to see Mrs. Emily Bush. Is she in?"

The servant opened the door and let Horatio inside. "I will see if she will receive you, sir. Please wait here."

Horatio waited as the servant exited. Shortly, the man returned and escorted Horatio in to see Emily. As he entered the room, he was not surprised to see William Bush standing by the fireplace. Emily rose to greet Horatio, taking his hand in both of hers and smiling at him. Once again, Horatio could easily see how both of his best friends had fallen so completely in love with her. She was beautiful and gracious, as well as caring and strong. A truly captivating woman.

"Commander Hornblower! It is so good to see you again. Please, come and join us."

Horatio smiled down at her, his brown eyes twinkling. "It is wonderful to see you also, Mrs. Bush, and may I add, you are looking prettier than ever. Married life must agree with you."

"Oh, pshaw, Commander," Emily said, blushing. "You are a true gentleman. However, I thought that you had agreed to call me Emily."

Horatio bowed his head slightly. "Of course, Emily, but you are to call me Horatio. Not as pretty a name as Emily, but it is, alas, all I have to offer." He looked over at Bush. "Lieutenant. I hate to intrude, but I really must speak to Emily."

Bush moved over to a table and picked up his hat. "Of course, sir. I'll just be on my way. Emily..."

"No," Emily broke in. "Whatever you have to say, Horatio, you will say it in front of my husband, also." She looked at Bush, and her love shone through her eyes. "We have pledged that there will be no more secrets between us. Never again."

Bush smiled fondly at Emily, and replaced his hat on the table. He looked at Horatio. "Sir?"

Horatio shook his head. "I will not be the cause of any strife between the two of you. Perhaps it is best if you stay, for what I have to say really does concern the both of you."

"Then please sit, Horatio, and tell us what is on your mind."

Horatio took the chair Emily indicated and settled into it. He looked at the two people now sitting side by side on the couch.

"I'm sure you will not be surprised at the reason for my visit. I am here to speak about Archie."

Bush and Emily exchanged a glance. Emily spoke, her voice tremulous. "You have seen him, then?"

Horatio nodded. "I have."

Emily nervously picked at the folds of her dress. "He is - well?"

"No," Horatio said somberly. "He is not."

Emily's eyes closed, and Bush took her hand. She seemed to draw strength from his gesture, and she looked again at Horatio.

"Please tell me. I know that Commodore Pellew has seen him several times, but he would tell me nothing - not even where Archie is."

Horatio knew that he must hold nothing back, not if he was to help Archie. "He is here, Emily, staying at a place called The Sea Serpent."

Bush's mouth fell open. "The Sea Serpent? Why would he want to stay in that - " He broke off and looked at Emily. She returned his look, with a questioning gaze.

"You know the place?" Horatio asked.

Bush shook his head. "I have never been there myself, but I have heard the crew speak of it. It is certainly not a place I would ever associate with Archie Kennedy."

Horatio sighed. "Nor would I, William, but the man living there is not the Archie Kennedy we all know. I am not going to mince words, and I am sorry if this upsets you, Emily, but you must know the truth. Archie has taken your loss very hard. From what I saw, he has no interest in anything besides drink. He is at times angry, or sullen, or in deep emotional pain, and his moods change from one extreme to the other within seconds. He is insolent, and cares nothing for his appearance. There is no sign of the man who loved literature, and poetry, and music - instead, there is just a shell of a man, who takes delight in more - base - pleasures, and who enjoys hurting and belittling those who wish to help him."

There were tears in Emily's eyes. "I never wanted this, Horatio. Never! I still care very much for Archie, but he is part of my past, and I cannot go back. I thought he had accepted this. I thought he was happy for me. Oh, what have I done?" She dropped her head into her hands and sobbed softly.

Bush put his arm around her, and closed his eyes. He felt sick to his stomach. This was all his fault. He should have walked away from Emily, when he first saw her aboard ship, once he knew who she was and who she was engaged to. It didn't matter that, at the time, all of them believed Archie to be dead. She had been grieving for him, and he should have let her grieve alone. But not to have his wife beside him - he could not conceive of that. No. Archie had made his own choices, and Bush was not responsible.

Emily raised her head, and saw that Horatio was holding out his handkerchief to her. She accepted it with a sad smile and dabbed at her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was very low. "I am sorry, Horatio. I have been remiss in my duties as hostess. Would you care for something to drink - some lemonade, or cider, perhaps?"

Horatio smiled back at her, knowing that she was trying to collect herself. "Yes, thank you. That would be delightful."

Emily began to rise, but stopped as Bush put a hand on her arm. "Please, dearest. You are overwrought. Let me get it for you. You just stay here and visit with Horatio."

"Thank you, William," said Emily, looking at him through eyes full of tears. "That is very kind of you."

Bush stood and left the room, unobtrusively putting his hat under his arm. Once out in the hall, he did not turn for the kitchen, but instead opened the front door and slipped out into the late afternoon sunshine. He knew what he had to do.

 

 

 

Chapter Six

Sooner than he would have liked, Bush reached The Sea Serpent. He was appalled at the filth that greeted him, and he simply could not reconcile this place with the innate grace, charm, and refinement of Archie Kennedy. For him to have fallen so low was unthinkable. Several of the women in the pub looked up at his approach and smiled at him. He sighed, and walked over to the nearest one. She stood up, and looked him up and down. She would have been beautiful, he thought, had she not looked so careworn, and if she would clean herself up a bit, but that was neither here nor there. All he wanted was information.

"What can I do for you, sailor?" purred the woman, running her hand up and down his arm.

Bush fought down the urge to shake her hand off his sleeve. He needed an answer, and he did not want to offend her before getting it.

"I'm looking for a friend of mine. Perhaps you can tell me which room he is in?" he said, giving her his best smile.

The woman leaned forward and put both her hands on his chest. "You don't need a friend, honey. You only need me."

Bush squirmed, trying to get away from the woman's questing hands. This was damned uncomfortable! What if Emily found out? Finally, he reached out and gently grasped the woman's hands in his, pulling them away from his chest. "Please. It is imperative that I speak to him. Do you know Archie Kennedy?"

The woman threw back her head and laughed, a rich throaty sound that Bush felt all the way down to his boots. Quickly, he dropped her hands.

"Do I know Archie? Honey, every girl IN here knows Archie! Why would someone fancy and proper like you, be lookin' for the likes of him?" She stopped, and once again looked Bush over top to bottom, appraising him. "Unless, of course, you're, well, I suppose Archie might go for you, if you bought him enough rum."

WHAT?! Bush's mind screeched. "N-n-noo, p-p-please," he stuttered. "He is an old friend of mine!" he insisted, backing away from the woman as fast as he could. "Really, I just want to talk to him!" In his haste to get out of her clutches, he backed into a chair and fell over it. Scrambling to his feet, he again backed toward the staircase, his arms held out in front of him. "Please, just tell me what room he's in!"

Once again, the woman laughed, then looked around the room. "Well, let's see. Kathleen was with him a little while ago - oh, there she is. So, he should be alone now. Room number three."

"Thank you," Bush gasped, escaping up the stairs. The woman's laughter followed him up.

"You forgot the rum!"

Bush reached the top of the stairs and drew a deep breath. Good god, that had been humiliating! He took a moment to compose himself, straightened his uniform, then knocked on the door to room number three. Archie answered it.

"Well! If it isn't my old pal, Bushy the Backstabber!" he said sardonically. "Come to gloat, have you? Well, then, please come in, and give me your best."

Bush moved forward uncertainly, then shut the door behind him. "I am not here to gloat, Mr. Kennedy," he said quietly. "I only wish to talk to you for a moment."

"You wanna talk, you're gonna hafta drink, too," said Archie, his speech slurred just a bit. "I think I gotta clean glass here somewhere...." He picked up a glass from the dresser, peered at it, then wiped it off on his open shirt. He filled it with liquid, then handed it to Bush. "Best I can do, Bushy. This ain't exactly the Government House here." He filled another glass for himself and downed it in one shot. Refilling his glass, he looked at Bush.

"So, what DO you want, Bushy?"

Looking at the glass in his hand with distaste, Bush groaned inwardly. Oh, how he despised that nickname! Not wanting to antagonize Archie, he let it go for now. But by God, when the man finally got sober...! He put his drink down and said, "Mr. Kennedy, can we please sit down and speak civilly to one another?"

Archie took a long drink. "Isn't that what we WERE doing, Bushy?"

OK, now Bush was getting mad. Archie knew that he hated that nickname, and so he was trying to goad Bush into a fight by deliberately provoking him. Well, he was not going to give Archie the satisfaction.

"Look, Mr. Kennedy - Archie. We were friends once. Can we not speak as friends once again?"

"Friends?" snarled Archie, raising his arm and throwing the glass in his hand against the wall. The glass shattered, and the smell of rum permeated the small room. Bush longed to open the door for some fresh air, but he didn't dare. Archie was working up to some kind of tantrum, and Bush didn't want anyone else to witness it, although he was beginning to get the impression that this was not something new for Archie.

"Friends?!" yelled Archie again. "What kind of friend steals another friend's fiancée? What kind of friend lets that girl go on believing her first love is dead? I don't want your friendship, Bushy, so just go back to your damn ship, and your life with Emily, and leave me alone."

Archie gripped the edge of the table, and lowered his head. He was silent for a few moments, and when he raised his head back up, Bush was startled to see his face awash in tears. The tears had scrubbed the dirt from his face in uneven tracks, and Bush could see how pale Archie was. The anger was completely gone, and only wretchedness stared out from those once brilliant eyes. It broke Bush's heart.

"What do you want me to do, Archie?" he asked quietly. "Do you want me to step aside, so that you can be with Emily? Should I leave my wife? She still cares for you, and you obviously need her - is that what you want?"

Archie stared at Bush, and then laughed loudly. "You think I want your cast-offs, Bushy? Emily chose you. You, not me. As if I would take her, just because the great and noble Bushy deems it so! God, Bushy, I am so damn SICK of always being second best. Second choice. Second lieutenant. You just had to prove it again, didn't you? You had to be the better man, and show me up yet again." Archie turned away. "May God damn your soul, as he surely has mine."

Bush looked at Archie for several minutes, with neither of them making a sound. Just as Bush turned to leave, there came a knock at the door. Archie didn't move, so Bush opened the door.

In the hallway stood Horatio and Emily. "Emily!" said Bush frantically. "You should not be here! This is no place for a lady!"

Emily, however, didn't answer. She was staring past him, at the figure in the room behind him.

"Archie?" she said, her voice trembling.

Slowly, as if he were facing a firing squad, Archie turned around. His eyes met hers, and she put a hand to her mouth. "Oh, Archie."

Archie looked as if he were going to be sick. He turned away again, and said in a subdued tone, "Bushy's right, Emily. You don't belong here. I think it is best if you leave, and take your husband and friend with you."

"No," Emily whispered. "I cannot leave you here like this."

Archie turned back to her, a wide grin splitting his face. His voice was loud and sarcastic. "Well, then, Miss Emily, please do come in, and Horatio too! My! Please come in and join the party I didn't even know I was having! Oh, dear," he said, looking at the three guests. "We seem to have an uneven number of men and women here. Maybe I should invite some of the ladies from downstairs - just about all of them have been up here at one time or another. Why, Horatio - you met two of them as they were leaving this morning. Perhaps those two would strike your fancy? I personally prefer Kathleen - very inventive, she is." He winked at Horatio. "You'd like her, too, Horatio. What do you say? Have a go?"

Emily gasped in shock, her hand again to her mouth. "Archie! What has happened to you? Where is the gentle soul I knew as if he were part of me? Why are you acting like this?"

Archie smirked at her. "Oh, grow up, Em. You moved on, with Bushy. I'm simply moving on with anyone who strikes my fancy at the moment."

Bush had had enough. "By God, Kennedy!" he roared. "You will not speak to my wife like that! Apologize, sir!"

"I will not apologize!" yelled Archie. "I will speak to Emily any damn way I please - I've known her a lot longer than you have, Bushy."

The two men were now standing nose to nose.

"That does not give you leave to treat her so rudely," shouted Bush. "Emily is a lady, and she is well rid of scum like you!"

"Oh, really, Bushy? Then why were you so willing to give her up just a few minutes ago? You wanted me to have her then. You said..."

"Oh, stop it!" screamed Emily. "For the love of God, stop it! You think that I am a possession, to be handed back and forth like a, a pair of shoes? Have I no voice in the matter?" Emily was so angry that there were almost flames coming out of her eyes as she looked at the two men fighting over her yet again. "Well, I make my own decisions. And I decide that I want nothing to do with either one of you!" With that, Emily ran to the door and threw it open. She stormed down the hall.

Horatio looked at Bush and Archie. "You stupid, bloody, IDIOTS!" he hissed, and left to go after Emily.

Bush and Archie were left alone in the room. Bush looked at Archie, feeling only contempt for the man before him.

"Pellew should have let you die," he growled, then left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Archie had no reply for him. He sank to the ground, and rested his head on the bed. "Emily," he whispered, as sobs wracked his body. He put his head down and cried, the tears coming in torrents.

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

Horatio caught up with Emily outside The Sea Serpent. "Emily, please wait," he implored her, putting a hand on her arm. She looked up at him, and he saw so many things mirrored in those expressive eyes: anger, pain, fear, and most of all, confusion. He drew her away from the building.

"Horatio, who was that man?" she whispered hoarsely. "That was not Archie Kennedy - it could not be! And William! Never have I seen him so angry. Was he really willing to let me go? Surely he cannot believe I would be happy with Archie, when it is William I love with all my heart?"

Horatio was shaking his head. "I wish I had answers for you, Emily, but I do not. I know you are angry with them both, but I beg of you, do not walk away from William. You are his life."

Emily blinked at the tears forming in her eyes. "As he is mine. Oh, Horatio. How did this happen? What are we to do?"

Horatio looked up, and spied Bush coming out of The Sea Serpent. "I do not know, Emily, but I do know that we have to help Archie, somehow. You and William need to leave here, and talk things out between you."

Bush arrived to hear the last, and he looked at Emily. "He's right, Emily. We need to talk." He was desperately tamping down his anger, seeing how much it troubled his wife.

Emily nodded, and turned back to Horatio. "And what of you, Horatio? Will you stay here and try to talk to Archie?"

Horatio stared at The Sea Serpent, his worry for Archie etched on his face. "No. Not tonight, anyway. I do not know how to help him, when I do not know which Archie Kennedy will be in the room with me."

Bush frowned at that. "Yes," he said. "That was damned peculiar. He kept switching from one emotion to the next. Horatio, there is something terribly wrong with him. Are you sure that he is worth the trouble?"

Horatio swung around to face Bush. "Do not EVER say that, Mr. Bush. I would give my life to help Archie in any way, and there was once a time when he would do the same for either of us. In fact, he did, for me." Horatio's voice softened. "I know that we are all frightened by what Archie has become, but that does not change the fact that our duty, as the people closest to him, is to protect him. Even from himself."

Emily spoke through her tears. "I do not believe I have the strength, Horatio. I do not think I can ever face that person again."

Horatio smiled gently at her. "You will find the strength, Emily, as you always have. For now, though, you must go with William, and the two of you must put that scene upstairs behind you. Do not think of Archie tonight. Only remember what you have together. Tomorrow, we will do what we can to help Archie, and we will pray that we are not too late."

Emily nodded, and took Bush's proffered arm. Impulsively, she stood on tiptoe and kissed Horatio's cheek. "I am so very glad that Archie has you, Horatio," she whispered. "I know that if anyone can save him, you can. Thank you, Horatio."

Horatio nodded, and watched as Bush and Emily moved down the street, heading for home. Glancing at The Sea Serpent, he frowned deeply. Save him, Emily had said. How in the bloody hell was he supposed to do that?

 

 

 

Chapter 8 (by Bobbi Meislohn)

Archie put his face in his hands. He'd never felt so ashamed in his life, and yet, he couldn't seem to stop hurting his friends. "God, what's the matter with me," he thought. Neither Emily nor her husband, for that's what William Bush was -- like it or not -- deserved the cruel words he'd flung at them.

"And Horatio," he moaned aloud, "what has possessed me that I should treat my dearest friend in so base a manner? God, what have I become?"

Archie raised his bloodshot, bleary eyes as a step sounded in the doorway. "Here I am, luv," Kathleen said, smiling seductively, "right on time as always." And she held up a bottle of rum with one hand, the other lifting her skirts provocatively above her ankles.

"Get out of here," Archie hissed between clenched teeth, throwing two silver crowns at her, "and take that damn bottle with you!" Slamming the door, Archie flung himself on the bed. He closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep. He was so tired -- so very tired.

"I imagine you would be, with the amount of "exercise" you seem to be getting these days," said a soft, slightly sarcastic voice, "not to mention the amount of rum you've consumed!"

Archie opened his eyes and looked around. There was a faint glow emanating from one corner of the room. Focusing as well as he could, he made out a vague shape sitting in the chair there. "I'm dreaming," he thought.

"Yes you are," the voice answered, "but in dreams there is often truth."

"Abby?" he asked quietly.

"Ah," said the apparition, "at least your mind is not so fogged with rum that you do not remember who I am. And may I commend you on your choice of living accommodations. I do not believe a more wretched hovel exists anywhere else on this entire planet!"

"Leave me in peace, Abby," he said, turning his face to the wall.

"I can't, Archie," she said, her voice gentle yet implacable, "you've got to listen to someone. Since you seem unwilling -- or unable -- to listen to your friends, or to the Commodore, perhaps you'll listen to a ghost in your dreams."

"What do you want from me? I have lost the woman I love!"

"And do you think you are the first person to lose someone they love?" she asked him. "You are not, I assure you -- not the first -- nor will you be the last."

"Oh yes," he all but sneered at her, "I forgot. You lost your precious Robert! But at least YOU got to marry him first? You did not have to stand by while HE married someone else -- someone you thought was a FRIEND!"

"Forgive me -- and please correct me if I am mistaken -- but did you not write to Emily after you were wounded? When you thought you were dying, did you not beg her to go on with her life? And did you not accept Commodore Pellew's commission to become a spy; leaving your old life behind? Surely you could not expect Emily to do anything OTHER than move on with her life under those circumstances!"

Abby paused and Archie sat up on the bed. He looked at his sister with haunted eyes. How could he argue with such logic? But logic did little to ease the pain in his heart and in his soul.

"No," he said, "I suppose I could not. But do you KNOW how HARD it is, knowing she is with another man and her love is for him ALONE? Have you ever felt THAT kind of pain? Do you know what it's like to see her and KNOW that I CANNOT be with her -- EVER?!"

"No, my dearest brother," Abby answered, "I was spared that with Robert, so I can only guess at the kind of pain you feel. But think for just a moment -- and imagine what it would be like to raise two young boys to manhood -- watching as they both become the mirror image of their father."

"We, all of us," she continued, "feel pain at some time in our lives. It is a part of living, Archie. To know great joy, as well as great pain. That is what makes us human. Do you think that Emily and Mr. Bush have no regrets? That there is no pain for them? Do you think that when they saw you in this state today they could not help but feel, in some way, responsible?"

Archie snorted and stared back at her, but kept silent.

"Archie," she said, "there will always be a special place for you in Emily's heart. She did not cease to care for you when she married Mr. Bush. You loved too long and too deeply for her to forget all about you."

"But that's just it," Archie said, his voice rising, a dull flush darkening his pale cheeks, "DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? She DID forget -- she DID forsake me -- as everyone I've ever loved has forsaken me -- as you, yourself did. As Horatio, and yes, even William, will one day forsake me! I AM NOT FIT TO BE LOVED!"

"Oh Archie," Abby said, the quiet voice now touched with sadness, "it is YOU who do NOT understand."

"But that is not the issue now." she continued, a stern note in the soft voice. "You have done your friends, as well as yourself, a grave disservice by your conduct."

"And exactly what have I done?" he fumed. "What disservice to myself and my friends?"

"You do not see, but I tell you truly -- YOU are the one who has forsaken your friends, not the other way 'round. You refuse to see that they love you, as they always have and always will. That is bad enough. But you have forsaken your honor -- your very life -- with this behavior, and that is far worse," she answered, seeming to look directly into his soul.

"Abby," he said, tears slipping from his eyes, "tell me what to do. I feel so lost -- so alone!"

"I cannot tell you what to do. That is a decision only YOU can make. But, as I told you once, I shall always be here, even though you cannot see me. I have not forsaken you -- and I shall always love you!"

"You must sleep now, my love," she said, "the time for talking is at an end. Perhaps, though, when you are rested, you might spare a moment and think on what has passed between us."

Archie closed his eyes. He was tired -- so very, very tired.

 

 

Chapter Nine

Horatio returned to Retribution, hoping for a good night's sleep before what was surely to be a trial tomorrow. Unfortunately, that was not to be. After several hours of tossing and turning, he finally got up, dressed, and went abovedecks. Jeffers, the officer of the watch, greeted him with some trepidation.

"Everything all right, sir?"

Horatio nodded. "Not a night for sleep, Mr. Jeffers. I thought to get some fresh air and clear my head. Please return to your duties."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Jeffers, moving aft.

Horatio paced the deck, then came to a decision. Calling Jeffers back, he told him to ready a boat. He was going ashore.

By the time he reached The Sea Serpent, it was almost dawn. Luckily, the lower level was empty, so he was able to reach the stairway without being accosted. Quietly, he knocked on Archie's door. Getting no answer, he opened the door and peeked inside.

Archie lay sprawled on the bed - alone, thankfully - fully clothed. He was sound asleep. More likely, thought Horatio, he was passed out from all the rum he had no doubt imbibed. The room certainly stank of it. Horatio cautiously crossed over to the tiny window and forced it open, hoping for some fresh air to clean out the room. Then he moved over to the bed and stood over it, looking down at his friend.

Archie looked so young and vulnerable as he slept, and Horatio's heart ached for him. His anger at Archie from the previous day was gone, and he knew that what he had told Emily and Bush last night was true. It was his duty to protect his friend. No matter what new demons tormented Archie now, it was Horatio's job to help him find and slay those demons, and bring him back to the life he deserved.

Archie moaned slightly in his sleep. "Abby," he breathed, and then was still again. Horatio leaned over him, gently removed his boots, and drew the blanket up over his body, while he considered his next move. The best thing, he decided, would be to keep Archie away from the liquor for awhile. Maybe then he would remain rational enough for Horatio to speak to him.

Rational. The word chilled Horatio to the bone. It brought a vision of Captain Sawyer, in a straight-jacket, bellowing out the song - no. NO. Archie would NOT become like that. This was different. It had to be. Archie was not mad, he was merely hurting. In great pain, yes, but his heart and his pride would eventually heal, and he would be whole again. Wouldn't he?

Horatio drew the chair next to the bed, and sat down, just inches away from Archie's head. He reached out and gently brushed a stray lock of hair out of Archie's eye, and wondered if he would ever see the old Archie again. Would he ever hear Archie's laughter, or his voice quoting some damn passage or another from the Bard, or watch him stand again on the deck of the Indy as she sailed forth? Horatio smiled as he remembered. When first promoted to lieutenant, Archie had at last found his niche' on the Indy, and he had become an expert gunnery officer. Never had the crews functioned so well, or the guns themselves been so well maintained. Pellew had recognized the talent in his young lieutenant, and had placed him in charge of the cannons, where Archie had flourished. Then everything had changed, when they transferred to Renown. They had both been so excited to be going, and happy that they were still serving together, although they were a little sad about leaving the Indy, and Pellew. How quickly things had deteriorated. For an instant, Horatio allowed himself to picture what their lives would have been like, had things stayed the way they were, and he, Archie, and Pellew had remained together on the Indefatigable. No Renown, no Sawyer. Emily and Archie would be married. Horatio smiled at that, but the smile soon faded. Had this scenario been the correct one, he would not now have the friendship of William Bush, or his own command. He sighed, and gave up that path of thought. It was a waste of time. Things were how they were now, and he had to fix it. Whatever "it" was.

Horatio stood up and walked over to the window. He looked outside into the lightening darkness, and wondered just what sort of scum and villainy lurked out there tonight. This was not a safe part of town, and he was very glad that Emily had left this place. Looking over at Archie, he sighed, and removed his jacket and sword (which he had brought with him, knowing full well the dangers in this section of town). He hung them over the back of the chair, then moved back to the window. He would probably be here for quite awhile.

He gazed out at the stars sprinkled throughout the heavens, and his thoughts turned to the man behind him. Horatio would never be known as a romantic - when he looked at the stars, he merely saw constellations, and a point to navigate by, not something of great beauty that inspired poetry and love. How many times had Archie laughed at him for his "boring practicality"? How many times had Archie joined Horatio while he was on watch, abandoning his own off-duty time with his beloved books, or time spent with the other officers, so that he could come on deck and spin yarns about the stories behind the naming of the constellations? He'd nearly driven Horatio mad at times, with his incessant chatter. But right now, thought Horatio sadly, I would give anything to hear some of those stories, to see the Archie Kennedy I used to know, the friend whose smile could light up even the darkest night. Where are you, Archie?

There was a slight sound out in the hallway, and Horatio turned, his every sense alert. There should be no one out and about in this place, at this time of morning, unless they were up to no good. He heard footsteps stop outside of Archie's door, and the door handle began to turn. Quietly, Horatio reached over and drew his sword. He melted into the shadows behind the opening door.

A man entered the room, holding a package in one arm. He looked at the figure on the bed, then set the package on the table and turned to close the door.

Instantly, Horatio had his sword at the man's throat. The stranger stopped in his tracks and raised his hands away from his body, his eyes never leaving the sword tip under his chin. The growing dawn lit his dark features. His voice was soft and melodious.

"I do not know what you want, senor, but I assure you, I do not have much to give."

Spanish? thought Horatio. What was a Spaniard doing in Archie's room? Aloud he said, "Who are you, sir, and what is your business here?"

The man's dark eyes flickered up to Horatio's face. "I am Marco Montoya, senor. I am a friend of Mr. Kennedy's. And you are?"

Horatio still did not lower the sword. "I have never heard Mr. Kennedy mention your name, sir, and I would wonder what you are doing here at this hour."

Marco glanced over at Archie still asleep in the bed, and said, "I have brought Senor Kennedy some - supplies - he has requested. He had not been feeling well lately, and he asked me, as a favor, to procure him some special supplies. I am glad to do it, as he is my friend. And more, for he and I previously worked together."

"I do not think so, senor," said Horatio forcefully. "Mr. Kennedy is a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy, and does not consort with the enemy."

Marco eased backward, but Horatio followed him, his sword still held steady at his throat. "Do not try anything, sir, or I shall run you through where you stand."

Marco swallowed, then looked Horatio in the eye. "I am not the enemy, though I do not think you will believe me. I have told you my name, senor - will you not tell me yours, so that I may know who to curse in the afterlife?"

Still not moving an inch, Horatio answered, "I am Commander Horatio Hornblower, of His Majesty's ship Retribution."

A smile lit Marco's face. "Ah, Senor Hornblower - of course! Archie has spoken of you many times, and of your friendship. I should have realized who you were - Archie has said you can be rather fierce when defending those you care for."

"Oh, for God's sake, Horatio," came Archie's weary voice from the bed behind him. "Put your sword away, before you get blood all over the place, and I have to pay extra to have it cleaned up."

Horatio did not waver as he addressed Archie. "You know this man, Archie?"

Archie let out an exasperated sigh and sat up in bed, easing his feet to the floor. "Isn't that what the man just told you?" When Horatio still didn't move, Archie rolled his eyes dramatically, and said very slowly, as if speaking to a small child, "Yes, Hor-a-ti-o. I KNOW this man. He is a GOOD dago. He was one of my contacts in France. NOW will you put down your sword?"

Slowly, Horatio lowered his sword, then bowed slightly to Marco. "My apologies, Senor Montoya. I should not have judged you so. I was just looking out for Mr. Kennedy's best interests."

Archie snorted at that. "You really do enjoy throwing my words back at me, don't you Horatio."

Horatio grinned at him. This almost sounded like the old Archie!

Archie slipped on his boots, got to his feet and moved over to the table. "Ah, good, Marco. Is this everything I asked for?"

Marco nodded. "Si. It is all there, Archie."

Archie took a quick look inside the package, then nodded, satisfied. "Very well. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I really must use the head. Drink will do that to you." He flashed his old grin at them and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Curious, Horatio moved over to see what Marco had brought Archie. As he looked inside the package, his heart sank. There was only a collection of bottles in there - bottles of rum. Horatio shook his head. This had to go, if he was going to try to keep Archie sober. As he began to close the package, he noticed a couple of smaller bottles nestled amongst the liquor bottles. Frowning, he reached in and pulled one out. He stared at it in disbelief, then reached in and took out the other bottle. It was the same. Shaking with anger, Horatio whirled around to face Marco, who was watching him intently.

"Laudanum, senor? Laudanum? What is this?" he spoke through clenched teeth, holding one of the bottles out in front of him.

Marco shrugged. "It is merely a sleeping aid, made from a mixture of - "

"I know what it bloody IS!" yelled Horatio. "What I want to know is, why are you giving it to Mr. Kennedy?"

Marco cocked his head and looked curiously at Horatio. "Because he asked me to, senor."

"No," Horatio said firmly, shaking his head. "Mr. Kennedy has always refused laudanum, even when in terrible pain. It causes him to have horrible nightmares."

Now it was Marco's turn to shake his head. "Mr. Kennedy has used it for as long as I have worked with him, senor. Not a great deal, at least until lately, but just as needed."

Horatio still refused to believe it. "How long have the two of you known each other?"

Marco considered. "Well, our first meeting was shortly after his return to France, following the death of his sister." He didn't notice the stunned expression on Horatio's face. "Apparently, her death was most difficult for him, and he desired something to help him sleep."

Horatio was reeling. Since Abby's death! All this time, Archie had been using a drug to help him along. Even at the fort..... He looked sharply at Marco.

"How much was he using?"

"Not much, senor, in fact very little. It was not until just a few months ago that he began to ask me to procure larger amounts for him - quite a large increase. Apparently, he has had some bad experiences with doctors lately? He does not trust them? And so, he asked me to help him."

Horatio's lip curled as he thought. Hepplewhite. Clive. Yes, indeed, Archie had had bad experiences with doctors throughout his life, with the exception of Dr. Sebastian, but that still did not explain his change of attitude toward the laudanum.

"Why do you think Archie would use more now?" he mused. "What could have happened to cause this change...." his voice trailed off.

Marco looked at Horatio. "I do not have all the details, Senor Hornblower, but Archie did tell me a tale of a surgery he was forced to endure while on assignment. Seems some "butcher", as he called him, took a knife to him? Dug a musketball out of his shoulder, leaving Archie with a large scar and near constant pain, and so he began using the laudanum regularly. Lately, though," Marco said quietly, his voice softening, "his demand for it has been unusually high. I get it for him because he asks for it, and he is my friend. I do not like to see a friend suffer, do you, senor?"

Horatio shook his head, still trying to reconcile what Marco was telling him with what he knew of Archie. The Archie Kennedy from Indefatigable would never let Hepplewhite give him laudanum, not even when blinded, or shot, or run through his midsection with a splinter, and he had begged Horatio to make sure he did not get any, were he to be unconscious and unable to refuse it himself.

"This does not make sense," he began, only to be cut off by Archie's furious voice from the doorway.

"Put the bottle down, Hornblower."

Horatio merely looked at Archie.

"I said, put the bloody bottle down! I said it, and I mean it! Put it on the table!"

Instead, Horatio turned to Marco. "Senor Montoya, if you would leave us alone, please? Mr. Kennedy and I have something to discuss."

"Do not leave, Marco," warned Archie.

Marco smiled at him. "Alas, dear Archie, I have another engagement I must attend. If Senor Hornblower will promise not to run you through with his sword, I shall depart."

"Thank you, Senor Montoya," Horatio said softly, his eyes moving to Archie's flushed face. "Your discretion is appreciated."

Marco bowed slightly and withdrew, leaving Horatio and Archie staring angrily at each other.

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

"Give me the bottle," Archie demanded coldly.

"I will not," said Horatio, equally as coldly. "By GOD, Archie. Laudanum? What were you thinking?"

"This doesn't concern you, Hornblower," said Archie, moving forward to take the bottle from Horatio's hand. Horatio simply held it out of reach.

"Doesn't concern me? Oh, yes it does, Archie. It concerns me greatly. As long as I have known you, you have always been afraid of what happens when you are given laudanum. Afraid of the nightmares. How could that change? Why would you think it would help?"

"Maybe because it DOES help," Archie shot back. "Maybe because I got sick of never being able to sleep. And maybe, just maybe, it was because the nightmare I was living was worse than any nightmare I had while asleep."

Archie leaned back against the wall and looked at the ceiling. "I couldn't do it anymore, Horatio. I am so tired of fighting for any kind of peace. I just can't fight anymore."

Horatio put the laudanum bottle on the table, and moved closer to Archie, being very careful not to touch him, for he was still not sure if his friend's temper was going to make an unexpected reappearance. "Archie," he said gently. "I know things are going badly for you, but this is not the way. You will never find your peace in drink, or laudanum, or endless women you care nothing about. Let us leave here, and....."

"No, Horatio," Archie broke in wearily. "Will you please stop trying to save me? Do you not know that you are part of the problem? If you will just go away and leave me be, everything will be fine. I will no longer have to live in the shadow of the brilliant and wonderful Horatio Hornblower, and that will have to be enough."

Horatio moved in front of Archie and very gently put his hands on his shoulders. "Archie. You have never lived in my shadow, not in anyone's eyes but your own. You are a fine man in your own right. You have accomplished things I can only dream of, and you have always served with pride and honor. You must not lose sight of that, Mr. Kennedy. You must take a step forward, and leave this place. I will be at your side, always. Commodore Pellew knew that, when he asked me to help..." Too late, Horatio realized what he had just said.

Archie's eyes widened. "Pellew?" he rasped. "Pellew sent you here? What, did he order you to save me from myself?" Archie batted Horatio's hands away and moved across the room.

Horatio turned to watch him. "Archie, it was not like that."

"Oh, god," Archie groaned, hanging his head. "It was JUST like that, wasn't it. I have never been anything but a failure in his eyes, and this proves it."

"Archie! You know that is not true. He would never have you as his second lieutenant on the Indy if he thought that. He would never have recruited you to spy in France. He never would have risked his life, and his career, for you, if he thought you were a failure! He is very worried about you, Archie, and he thought that you might listen to me - that together we could help you."

Archie faced the wall, and leaned his head against it, resting it against his arm. "I do not want your help, Horatio. I just want you to go away and leave me alone."

"I cannot do that, Archie," Horatio said softly. "If I were in trouble, would you walk away from me? Would you not move heaven and earth to save me, no matter the cost?"

"That's not fair, Horatio, and you know it. You are worth saving. I am not."

"Why would you think that, Archie? Why can you not believe in yourself, as so many others believe in you?"

Archie turned away from the wall, dropping his arm to his side, and Horatio's heart dropped into his boots. Archie's eyes were blazing. Another mood change.

"I don't want your pity, Hornblower, and I do not want your help. There are some things in the world that you cannot fix, and you need to start realizing that. So why don't you just put on your perfect uniform, go back to your perfect ship, and live your perfect life? You don't need me in it. I hope you'll be very happy."

Horatio moved over and stood directly in front of Archie, trying to look into his eyes. Archie refused to meet his gaze. Finally, with a sigh, Horatio reached out and took Archie's chin in his hand, forcing his head up. He hated himself for causing the fear that leapt into those crystal blue eyes, but he didn't let go. Somehow, he simply had to get through to his friend. He spoke softly.

"And how could I possibly be happy, knowing my best friend was hurting so? Archie, I did not come here simply because Pellew asked me to. I came here because you need someone to help you, and I want to be that person. You are always so quick to give of yourself, Archie - please, this time, let someone give to you."

Archie's eyes dropped. "Throwing my words back at me yet again, eh, Horatio?"

Releasing his hold on Archie, Horatio stepped back. "I will do whatever it takes, Archie. No matter if you despise me in the end, I am going to get you through this."

"And what if I do not wish to get through this?"

"Of course you want to," Horatio said, puzzled. "Surely you are not content to live here in this - place, so far away from your home upon the sea." He smiled a bit. "Don't you want to get back aboard the Indy - feel the deck beneath your feet, and hear the wind singing in the riggings? You were so happy and so proud, Archie, when Pellew offered you the 2nd Lieutenant position aboard her, despite your pain over the loss of Emily. I know what serving with him again meant to you. That cannot have changed. Not in such a short space of time."

Archie raised his head and regarded Horatio. "Things change all the time, Horatio, and it's rarely, at least in my experience, for the better. 'With every minute you do change a mind, and call him noble that was now your hate.' Everything has changed for me, Horatio. Everything."

"It needn't be all bad, Archie. Think of it as a new beginning."

Without warning, Archie reached out with both hands, and shoved Horatio as hard as he could. Taken completely by surprise, Horatio stumbled backwards, falling against the table, then down to the floor. His head hit the chair with a sickening thud as he fell. Colors flashed before his eyes. As a curtain of darkness began to fall, he saw Archie standing over him. He gasped in pain as Archie drew his foot back and kicked him soundly in the ribs, then watched as he picked up Marco's package from the table and left the room. He tried to call out Archie's name, but darkness overtook him. He fell into the void.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

Horatio had no idea what time it was, when consciousness slowly returned to him. His head was throbbing, and he winced when his hand touched the rather large bump there. As he struggled to his feet, he gasped slightly at the pain in his ribs, and he moved more slowly, trying to regain his equilibrium. When finally he gained his feet, his first thought was to look for the package on the table. It was gone. Missing, also, was the bottle of laudanum Horatio had been holding. He swore softly. Archie was out there somewhere, with all that rum and laudanum, and Horatio had no idea where to start looking for him. Stumbling slightly, he moved over to pick up his uniform jacket and his sword from where they had fallen when his head met the chair. As he pulled the jacket about his body and fastened his sword, he realized that he was going to need some help. Perhaps William and Emily.....

He noticed the light as he came downstairs and entered the pub. That made it mid-morning. Archie had a good head start on him, wherever he had gone. He paused at the bottom of the stairs and glanced around, wondering where he should begin looking. As he stood there, one of the women who had been in the pub the previous night came out from the kitchen area and saw him. An uncertain look on her face, she approached Horatio.

"Excuse me, sir. You are a friend of Archie's, are you not?"

Horatio looked at the girl. She was probably younger than she appeared - her line of work tended to age women more quickly. She had an open, trusting face, with clear green eyes and long brown hair, and a quiet loveliness that was very out of place in the filth that surrounded her. Her voice had a trace of a soft Irish lilt when she spoke to Horatio.

He nodded at her. "Yes, ma'am, I am."

She smiled. "I thought so. I saw you here last night, and seeing as how Archie used to be a sailor...."

Horatio cringed at the "used to be". "He still is a sailor, ma'am, and I need to speak to him. He left rather hurriedly awhile ago. Would you happen to have any idea where he might be?"

The woman thought for a moment, then shook her head. "There are so many different places he goes to, and he doesn't tell the likes of me where they all are. When he's in one of his moods, well, he could be anywhere."

Horatio smiled wryly, thinking of the pain in his head and ribs. "Yes, he was certainly in a mood this morning."

The woman looked at him, a worried expression on her face. "You know him well, sir?"

Horatio had a far-away look in his eyes as he answered. "Better than I have ever known anyone. And sometimes, I think, even better than he knows himself."

"Yes," the woman said quietly. "You must be Horatio."

Horatio looked at her in surprise. "Ma'am?"

She laughed. "Archie has mentioned you. In his more lucid moments, he spoke of a man who was as a brother to him, and in his other moods, he cursed your name. I believe you to be more of the former, rather than deserving of the latter. Am I right?"

Horatio allowed himself a small smile as he worked his way through that statement. "I certainly hope it to be true, ma'am. Archie is a good friend, and I wish to help him." He stopped. "You are also - friends - with him?"

She considered. "Am I? I would like to think so. Excuse me, sir, for not introducing myself. My name is Kathleen Riley."

Horatio couldn't keep the look of consternation from his face. This was the "inventive" Kathleen Archie had mentioned!

Kathleen saw the look, and her face closed up. "I see Archie has mentioned my name. Please understand, sir, that there were many nights when we simply sat in his room and talked. He felt as if all of his friends had betrayed and abandoned him, and he just needed a friend to hold his hand and talk to him. Someone who wouldn't judge him and find him lacking. I gave him that." At Horatio's look, she added, "Among other things."

Horatio felt ashamed of himself. "Forgive me, Miss Riley. I am in no position to judge you. I am merely worried about Archie."

Kathleen shrugged. "He'll be back. You could just wait here for him."

Horatio contemplated that, then shook his head. "If I knew when he would be returning, I would remain here, but there is no telling how long he will be. I will have to come back later." He hesitated, and looked at Kathleen. "If he comes back, will you watch out for him? Will you try to keep him away from the rum, and, and, from anything else?"

Kathleen's green eyes were sad and weary when she met Horatio's gaze, and he knew that she understood what he was referring to. "I will try, sir, but when Archie wants something...." She shrugged as her voice trailed off. "I will do my best."

Horatio thanked her, and left The Sea Serpent, heading for Emily and William's residence. He wasn't exactly sure what they were going to do, but he did know it was going to take the three of them, working together.

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

By the time Horatio reached his destination, he had the glimmer of an idea of what to do for Archie. He knew that the key to helping Archie lay in getting him away from the drink, and especially away from the laudanum. The challenge would lie in getting his friend to accept the treatment.

Once at the Bush residence, he was escorted to the same room he had been in before. Bush and Emily joined him shortly, and he was relieved to see that the anger from the previous night was gone, and the couple appeared to be as close as ever. The three of them sat down.

Horatio got right to business. "I went back to see Archie last night. I thought perhaps we could talk some more, and figure out how to help him, if he would indeed accept my help."

Bush was still fighting conflicting feelings. He kept trying to remember the old Archie Kennedy: the one who jumped off a cliff with a man afraid of heights and another one who couldn't swim, or the man willing to lay down his life and his honor in order to protect a friend, but all he could picture was the pitiful creature he had seen last night, bouncing from one emotional extreme to the next. He looked at his wife's face. She could not seem to respond to Horatio's statement. She was afraid, he thought in amazement. His strong, brave Emily was too frightened to even ask Horatio how Archie was doing, for fear that the answer would be too much to bear. Well, he would just have to be strong for her. For both of them.

He met Horatio's eyes. "How was he this time?"

Horatio sighed. "When he first awoke, he was the same old Archie - the one we all know. That did not last." Horatio stood, and began pacing. "All night, I have been trying to come up with some plan to help him, and I think I may have an idea. I do not know if it will work, but it is the only thing I could think of."

Emily spoke. "What is your plan, Horatio?"

Horatio stopped pacing, and faced her. "I'm afraid, dear Emily, that you shall have to die."

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

Bush jumped to his feet, and instinctively stood in front of Emily. "And just what do you mean by THAT, Commander?" he demanded. "If you so much as lay a hand on my wife...."

Horatio held up a hand, his eyes twinkling with amusement. "No, no, Mr. Bush, do not fear. Emily will be perfectly safe. I give you my word of honor."

Emily pulled William back to sit beside her. "Please explain yourself, Horatio. What would my dying accomplish?"

Horatio sat down himself, staring at the floor. Finally he lifted his eyes to theirs, and all traces of humor were gone. "I found out some more information today - very troubling information. Early this morning, I met a former contact of Archie's, from his time in France. His name is Marco Montoya, and he claims to also be a friend of Archie's."

Bush caught the inflection. "You do not believe him."

"Let us say that I do not trust him. There is something wrong there, but Archie apparently does trust him, so for now, I will also." Horatio looked at Emily. "There is more, and I fear it will be unpleasant for you, Emily."

Emily took a deep breath. "Nothing could be more unpleasant than what I saw in that room last night. Please, go on." Unconsciously, her hand sought William's, and he enfolded her small hand in his, wishing he could spare her any more pain.

Horatio's gaze traveled around the room, then came to rest on Emily and Bush. "I believe I know the reason for Archie's extreme mood changes. According to Senor Montoya, ever since his sister's death, Archie has been using laudanum. In the past few months, the use has escalated greatly. Combined with all the rum, it has somehow changed his personality into what we all saw last night."

Bush frowned, uncertain. "I do not remember ever seeing him using it, all the while we were on Renown, and even if he had been, I have never seen it affect anyone like this. For heaven's sake, even those on Renown - "

"No," Horatio broke in. "Do not compare the two. I do not know the reason why it affects some people this way, but I know that it does. My father has treated patients with such a problem. I should have recognized the signs, but it simply never occurred to me that Archie would ever willingly take laudanum. It was the last thing I expected."

Emily leaned forward, her gaze fixated on Horatio's face. "So, what do we do about it, Horatio?"

Horatio smiled at her. "I am very glad you asked what WE can do, Emily. When my father had a severe case that he could not handle by himself, he would send the patient to a sanitarium. I think we are all in agreement that that is not an option here?" Emily and Bush nodded. "Very well. What we CAN do, is separate Archie from his surroundings. Perhaps then we can get him to recognize the folly in the path he has chosen, for that will never happen while he is at The Sea Serpent."

"So, what do you propose?" questioned Bush.

Horatio turned his warm smile on Emily yet again. "This is where you come in, Emily. I will return to The Sea Serpent, and tell Archie that you are very ill - in fact, you are dying. He will want to see you. Once we arrive here, the three of us will not let him leave. I hope you have a spare room we may use - one with a lock?"

"Yes, we do," said Emily. "But what if he refuses to come? What if he is too - drunk - to care?"

This time, Horatio's smile was very sad. "Oh, he will want to see you, Emily, believe me. Despite everything, he is still very much in love with you. He would not give up the chance to say goodbye, no matter how drunk he may be."

"He'll be very angry, you know," came Bush's subdued voice. "Once he realizes we've all tricked him, there will be hell to pay. And even if we are successful - and you cannot deny that we may not be - he will surely hate all of us for treating him this way."

"I know," said Horatio, his voice barely a whisper. "But I cannot leave him such as he is. He means too much to me. If I lose his friendship, it will just have to be the price I pay for his life. It must be done."

 

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

Emily began to prepare the spare room, while Horatio and Bush went out to Retribution to check her status. Jeffers, as usual, had everything under control, so they went back ashore, and stopped at a tavern for a quick meal.

Bush looked at Horatio. "I would really feel much better if we had a doctor here to help us."

"And who would you suggest, William?" countered Horatio. "Dr. Clive? Some doctor we know nothing about, who will see Archie only as some drug-addled, drunken sailor? I think not."

"No, of course not," agreed Bush. "But what about Commodore Pellew? Perhaps he knows of a good, discreet doctor - what of the doctor who originally saved Mr. Kennedy's life after Kingston? Surely he is available?"

Horatio shook his head. "I do not want to involve the Commodore in this, if it can be at all avoided. He knows nothing of the laudanum, and Archie would, I think, be terribly distressed if he were to learn that Pellew found out about it. No, it is our responsibility."

The two men finished their meal in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Bush was more worried about his commanding officer than anything else. There were dark circles under Horatio's eyes, and his worry for Archie shone like a beacon from his face. Bush wondered how his friend would handle it, if Archie were to walk away from him when this was all over. Deep inside, Bush feared that there would be no mending the rift that was sure to be the result of what they had planned for Archie.

Horatio, for his part, was trying mightily to put his fears at bay and concentrate on the task at hand. His plan would work. It had to, if only for the simple reason that he had no other recourse. He heaved a sigh, then stood up and looked at Bush. "Are you ready?"

Bush also stood up, and returned Horatio's gaze. He nodded. They left the tavern. Once outside the door, Bush stopped and looked again at Horatio. He held out his hand. "Good luck, Horatio."

With a solemn face, Horatio clasped Bush's hand and shook it. "Thank you, William - I will need a great deal of luck, I fear. I will see you at the house presently."

The two men separated, and Horatio returned to The Sea Serpent, and went up to the second floor. Standing outside Archie's room, he took a deep breath. Pellew had once told Horatio that he was not an actor. Well, he had to prove the Commodore wrong, for Archie's life could very well depend upon his acting ability. Archie had to believe that Emily was near death.

He knocked on the door. He heard a muffled "Come in, then," so he opened the door and stepped inside.

Archie and Kathleen were sitting on the bed, deep in conversation. Horatio was struck by the abject weariness in Archie's demeanor. His head was dropped low, his shoulders slumped, and there just seemed to be no energy, no life at all in his body.

Kathleen looked up at Horatio, then stood up, gently disentangling her hand from Archie's. She walked over to Horatio, then stopped, looking back at Archie. For an instant, her hand touched Horatio's arm, and then she was gone. The door closed behind her.

Archie seemed to require a great deal of effort to speak. "What is it now, Horatio." His voice was flat and emotionless.

Horatio moved forward. "Archie, we must talk."

Archie leaned back and closed his eyes. "No, Horatio, I am done with talking. It solves nothing, it changes nothing, and it only serves to tire me out."

"Archie, this is not about you. This is about Emily."

Archie's eyes snapped open. "What about Emily?"

"She is very ill, Archie. Gravely ill."

Archie looked doubtful. "She seemed well enough last night."

Horatio shook his head. "She was hiding it from us, because she wanted to see you, but I fear the shock of what she found was too much for her. She collapsed after leaving here. Apparently, she has been ill for quite some time, but has told no one, not even William or her father. The doctor has been with her all night, but he says there is no hope. It is consumption, Archie. She does not have very long."

Archie felt as if Horatio had run his sword through his heart. Consumption. Like his dear Abby. Grief ripped through his chest, and he leaned forward, with a choked cry. Hugging his arms around his knees, he began to rock slowly back and forth. Tears spilled from his eyes. "No," he moaned. "No. I cannot lose anyone else. Not Emily. Oh, god, what have I done? Why her?"

It took every ounce of Horatio's self-control not to cry out to Archie that, no, he lied, and Emily was fine. Feeling as if his heart had been ripped out of his chest, he knelt down next to the bed and covered Archie's hand with his own. "Archie. I'm sorry. William is with her now. If you want to see her, to say goodbye, we must go now."

Archie looked at him blankly, then nodded. "Yes. I must say g-g-" he swallowed. "Goodbye. I do not want her last memory of me to be what she saw last night. Please give me a moment, Horatio. I would like to wash up a bit first."

Horatio nodded and stood up. This was working. Archie at least had some awareness of what he had become, and that in itself was promising. He wasn't lost to them yet. Not completely.

Archie didn't say a word during their trip, and Horatio left him alone with his worry. When they arrived at the Bush residence, William met them at the door, looking properly downcast and sad. He barely lifted his eyes to meet Archie's.

"Hello, Mr. Kennedy," he said quietly.

Archie was obviously waging a war with himself. "Mr. Bush," he said at last. "I am - very sorry about Emily. May I see her, please?"

Bush nodded. "She has been asking for you. Please, follow me."

The two men ascended the staircase, with Horatio following discreetly behind. Bush opened a door, and said to Archie, "She's inside. I will wait out here."

Archie took a moment, then stepped inside. Bush slammed the door behind him, and quickly locked it, pocketing the key. They heard Archie's startled exclamation.

"What the - ?" He rattled the doorknob. "Dammit, Bush, let me out. What's going on here? Where's Emily?" He began pounding on the door.

Horatio and Bush exchanged glances. Horatio spoke. "We should leave him alone for awhile, and then I will talk to him, and explain what we are doing." His eyes flickered to the door, and he continued, "Let us go downstairs. I would much prefer not to hear him right now."

Bush nodded, and said "I will fetch Emily, and we will join you. She was going to wait in our room, until Mr. Kennedy was safely locked away."

 

Inside the room, Archie was furious. His eyes darted around the room. He uttered an oath when he saw that the single window had been boarded over. No outlet there. Striding across the room, he flung open the only other door. It led to a small sitting room. A solitary figure waited for him there.

"Hello, Archie," said Emily.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

Archie was flabbergasted. "Em! What are you - why aren't you - " he broke off and glared at her. "I am SO glad to see you have made such a quick recovery. The doctors must be amazed."

He strode through the doorway, looking for a way out, but there was none. Emily turned to watch him.

"I am truly sorry, Archie, but there was no other way to get you here."

Archie spun to face her. "You don't think a simple invitation would have sufficed? 'Dear Archie - please come to visit me.' No, you had to trick me, and entrap me here. For what end, Emily? For your own personal enjoyment - so you could laugh at who I am?"

"You know me better than that, Archie," Emily said placidly.

Archie's blue eyes bore into hers. "I do not know you at ALL, Emily. Not any more." He moved back into the other room, and began beating on the door again. "Bush!" he yelled. "Open the damn door!"

Emily had followed him into the room. "That will do you no good, Archie. The decision has been made."

Archie stopped pounding on the door, and leaned his head against it. He felt exhausted. It had taken every ounce of strength he had left just to get here, and now he had to deal with this. "And what decision is that, Em? Why was I not consulted?"

"We did not ask for your opinion, because you are in no shape to make decisions, not even about yourself. You must trust that we are doing what is best for you."

Archie turned to face her. "We? Of course. All three of you had to be in on your little game - Horatio to get me here, Bush to lock me up, and you. What is your role in this, Em? Do you get to say some magical words, and all my problems will disappear? It will not work, Mrs. Bush."

Archie's voice was rising, and Emily forced herself not to flinch before the anger in those words, and in the blue eyes that were sparking at her.

"Your only problem, Archie, is your attachment to bottles of rum. And laudanum." At his startled look, she went on. "Oh, yes. Horatio told us all about it. It has to stop, Archie. It has to stop NOW."

With a cry of rage, Archie swept the pitcher of water from the dresser. It shattered on the floor.

"Damn him! What right does he have to discuss my private business with anyone?"

"His RIGHT," said Emily, "was that of a friend who is concerned for you."

"Friend?" snarled Archie. "He is no friend of mine."

"Oh, yes he is, whether you accept his friendship or not. He cares so much for you, Archie. He would give up everything - his career, his LIFE - if it would give you only one moment of happiness. It has always been thus for him, and I know that you felt the same for him. Do you not know how rare that is? Most people go through life never knowing that kind of trust."

"You think I trust him?" yelled Archie. "After what he has done today? After his complicity - " His voice broke off, and he sagged against the wall. "Please, Em, let me out of here. I just want to go home."

"I'm sorry, Archie. I cannot do that."

Archie's legs gave out, and he sank to the floor. "Emily. Please. I don't feel very well. Let me go."

Emily looked down at the man she had once loved, and a single tear slipped down her cheek. "No."

Archie curled up into a ball, trembling. "Honestly, Em, I feel sick. OH," he moaned, clutching his stomach. "Please. Open the door."

Emily knelt next to Archie. His face was ashen, and he was shivering. Concerned, she put her arm around his waist and helped him to his feet, then moved him over to the bed. With a groan, Archie lay down, turning away from Emily and facing the wall.

Emily rose as she heard a key turn in the lock, and the door opened. Bush's worried face peered around the door. The worried look changed to relief when he saw Emily, and then anger. He stepped into the room, grabbed her arm and pulled her into the hallway, where Horatio waited.

"Dammit, Emily! What are you doing in there?"

Rubbing her arm where her husband had so roughly held her, Emily held her head high. "I had to talk to him."

"Without either of us there? That was dangerous!"

"Oh for heaven's sake," Emily argued. "Archie is not dangerous. He would never hurt me. Never."

Bush opened his mouth to argue, but Horatio put a hand on his shoulder. Looking at Emily, he asked, "How was he?"

"Angry," she replied. "Sarcastic. Then he seemed to almost collapse. He's very pale, Horatio, and shivering. He says he doesn't feel well, and he was holding his stomach, as if it pained him."

Horatio frowned. "I would not have believed it could happen that quickly."

Bush broke in. "You were expecting this? Why?"

Horatio looked down the hallway, as if trying to peer into the past. "I remember a patient of my father's, one who had used high quantities of laudanum for quite some time. He was a man of some importance, and when he became incapacitated, his family begged my father to treat him, without anyone finding out about it. My father took him into our home, and treated him there. When the man was denied laudanum, he developed the symptoms you noticed in Archie, but he had been without the medicine for several days. I did not expect Archie to react so quickly." He thought for a moment, then smiled. "Apparently, Kathleen was able to keep him away from it today, and I do not think he had any in his possession, until Senor Montoya brought him those bottles. So, maybe it HAS been several days. That is well. He cannot get any while he is here. That is better."

"Horatio?" Emily asked tentatively. "Who's Kathleen?"

Horatio grinned. "Just a friend of Archie's. Sometimes you find friends in the most unlikely of places." He glanced at the doorway. "If he is truly developing these symptoms, someone should be with him. The two of you should go have some dinner, and get some rest. I will stay with Archie the rest of the evening, and through the night."

Bush and Emily went downstairs, and Horatio carefully unlocked and opened the door. Archie still lay unmoving on the bed. Locking the door behind him, Horatio sat down in a chair next to the bed.

"Emily?" came Archie's weary voice.

"No, Archie. It's Horatio."

"Go 'way," mumbled Archie. "I do not wish to see you."

Horatio leaned back in his chair. "Well, since you have your back to me, Archie, it is rather difficult for you to see me at all. Do you intend to shut me out forever?"

Archie rolled over onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. He was pale and trembling, and a fine sheen of sweat marked his brow. "You kidnapped me, Horatio. Am I supposed to just ignore that?" Archie gasped, and grabbed at his stomach. "Horatio, I really do not feel well. Please, just let me leave. I want to go home."

"Home, Archie?" Horatio said softly. "Home to the Indy, or to that tiny room where your demons live? I will not let you go back there, Archie. Not to that room, or to the laudanum that awaits you there."

"Dammit, Horatio," whispered Archie. "You cannot keep me here against my will." He turned his eyes to Horatio.

"Oh, can't I," smiled Horatio. "I seem to be doing just that."

Archie moaned, and turned his head to the wall. "Oh, villain, villain, smiling damn'd villain."

Horatio frowned at that. "I am not your enemy, Archie."

Archie kept his head turned to the wall. "You are no longer my friend, either, Commander."

Horatio bowed his head, the pain of those words knifing through him. "I am truly sorry you feel that way, Archie, but I had to do this. Even though it may cost me dearly, I have to keep you here. It is the only way to make you well."

Archie's voice was barely audible. "So what are you saying? 'I must be cruel only to be kind, Thus bad begins and worse remains behind?' There is no difference between bad and worse, Horatio - it's all the same in the hell I live in."

Horatio leaned forward and put his hand on Archie's arm, hesitating when he felt the clammy skin. "It does not have to be that way, Archie. It is only the laudanum that makes you feel such. Once we break your dependence on it, you will begin to feel better, and then - "

Horatio broke off as Archie snatched his arm away, and struggled to sit up. "Break my dependence? Is that what this is about? Well, Horatio, 'I do perceive here a divided duty' - the other part being easing the conscience of Horatio Hornblower!"

Horatio looked at Archie in confusion. "My conscience is quite clear, Archie. Why would it not be? I do this out of love and respect for my best friend, not out of a sense of guilt."

"Well, maybe that SHOULD be the reason," snapped Archie irritably. "After all, it was because of you that I had to increase my use of laudanum in the first place."

A vague memory floated into Horatio's awareness. Marco Montoya, mentioning a "butcher" and surgery.... He sat up straight in his chair. "Because I took a musketball out of your shoulder."

"Bravo," said Archie scornfully. "The brilliant mind of Horatio Hornblower at work. Yes, Commander. You stuck a blunt knife into a gaping hole in my shoulder, poked and prodded and dug around, and then neglected to stitch that hole up. Would you not think that I would have SOME semblance of pain afterwards?"

"Archie, you know that had to be done, or you would have died of infection. And as for stitching the wound up" - Horatio spread his hands helplessly - "With what? We were locked in a cell. You never complained of any excess pain then, Archie."

"Maybe because I had a mission to concentrate on then. Maybe I was too busy to feel the pain until later."

"Or maybe," said Horatio, "You are just looking for someone else to blame for your problem."

Archie glowered at him, then gasped as a spasm of pain ripped through him. He doubled over, holding his stomach. "Oh! Please, Horatio, I need some laudanum for the pain - just a little bit, just this once. Please. Oh, god, it hurts. It hurts!"

Horatio stood up, almost unable to bear seeing the agony Archie was in. "I'm sorry, Archie," he said firmly. "I cannot."

Archie cried out in pain and frustration. "Dammit, Horatio, if you truly ARE my friend, you'll help me."

Horatio looked down at him sadly. "I am helping you, Archie. You just cannot see it right now. This will pass, Archie, I swear it. Please trust me." He sat back in his chair and gazed at his friend.

Archie looked at him through pain-filled eyes. "No," he whispered. "Never again." Trembling, he lay back on the bed and turned his back on Horatio.

Horatio leaned back in his chair and tried to get comfortable. This was going to be a long, hard fight.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

Over the next several days, Horatio, Bush, and Emily all took turns staying with Archie. Horatio had been right. It was a very difficult and emotionally draining time for all involved. Archie's symptoms only increased in severity, and he was very restless, nervous, and irritable. He was constantly bathed in sweat, and Emily was forced to change the linens daily.

Horatio was with him on the third day, when the worst happened. Archie, shivering, was lying on the bed, almost gasping for breath. With a strangled cry, he sat up, then pitched out of the bed to the floor. Instantly, Horatio was at his side, as the worst fit Archie had ever experienced ripped through him. Sitting on the floor, holding Archie's thrashing body in his arms, Horatio thought it would never end. Dimly, he was aware of the door opening - Bush and Emily, alerted by the crash of Archie's falling body, had come running to see what was wrong - but he never looked up, instead just concentrating on holding Archie, and murmuring words of comfort. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Archie lay unconscious. Bush moved forward, and helped Horatio lift Archie to back into the bed. Exhausted, Horatio looked at Emily and Bush.

"He'll sleep now, for quite some time. We can leave him alone."

Silently, the three of them went downstairs and sat down. His hands shaking slightly, Bush poured them all a drink, and they sat in utter stillness. Finally, Bush spoke.

"My God," he breathed. "What was that?"

Horatio rubbed his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was muted, betraying the absolute weariness he felt. "Ever since he was a very young boy, Archie has suffered from fits, or the falling sickness, if you will. The episodes are usually brought on by some type of distressing event - they happened often in Justinian - or if he is overly tired." He stopped, and shook his head. "I thought he was over them. He'd not had one in so long, not since well before Renown. This must have been too much for him."

"But he recovers?" asked Bush.

Horatio nodded. "Yes. Maybe some good will come out of this. This is the first sleep of any kind Archie has had since he's been here - perhaps it will help."

Horatio was correct. Archie slept for almost a day and a half, a deep, restorative sleep. He awoke, with only a dull ache of pain in his stomach and his head to remind him of his ordeal. Slowly, he opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Emily's smiling face. She helped him to sit up and lean against the headboard.

"Good morning, Archie," she said softly. "How are you?"

Archie swallowed. "Thirsty," he rasped. Emily poured him a glass of water, and he took a tentative sip. The cool water tasted better than anything he could remember, and he drained the glass. Emily put it back on the dresser, then turned to him.

"How do you feel?"

Archie closed his eyes, assessing the situation. He was no longer shivering or sweating, and the stomach cramps were gone, but he felt a slight residual weakness. Memory returned, and he hung his head.

"I had a fit, didn't I," he said quietly.

Emily reached out and took his hand. Her touch was almost more than he could bear, but he knew if she took it away, he would feel even more bereft.

"Yes, Archie," she said simply.

Archie was filled with shame. That Emily, of all people, should see him in that state was more than he could endure. Removing his hand from Emily's he slowly sat up the rest of the way, wrapping his arms around his knees, and laying his head down on top of them.

"I'm sorry, Em," he said, his voice muffled. "I wish you hadn't seen that."

"It's all right, Archie," she said soothingly. "It was terribly frightening, but it's over. I think I understand now. You had told me of the fits, when you spoke of Justinian, but you never told me what they truly were like, and now I see why. I'm sorry, Archie."

Archie turned his head and looked at her. "Sorry for what, Em? It is not your fault I have this affliction."

"I'm sorry that you have had to deal with this for so long. I'm sorry that what we did to try to help you, caused the fits to return. Horatio said it had been years since your last one."

Unwrapping his arms from around his legs, Archie leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "I thought they were gone forever. I guess I should have known better. 'When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.' Pretty much describes my life." He sighed, and Emily thought she heard all the sorrows of the world in that sound. "I want to go home now, Emily. Please."

"I do not believe that is for the best, Archie, not yet, anyway. You are still weak, and I don't believe you would be much help aboard the Indy."

Archie looked at her, then slowly eased himself up off the bed. Standing, he fought against a rising tide of dizziness, clinging to the bedpost until his head cleared. He walked over to the window and looked out.

"I see you removed the boards from here, Emily. Do you trust me not to escape out the window, then?"

"I always trusted you, Archie," she said quietly. "We had to lock you up, for your own protection."

Archie didn't answer. He could not look away from the window. With the house set up a little on a hill, the window had a beautiful view of the harbor, and he could even see Indefatigable as she rocked gently there. He was gripped by a terrible, deep sadness, knowing that he no longer belonged there - that life was surely gone from him now. Pellew would never want him back aboard.

Emily joined him at the window, knowing what he was looking at. "She's so beautiful, Archie. I am so proud of you - being 2nd Lieutenant aboard her is truly a great accomplishment."

Archie only stared bleakly out at the Indy. "I am no longer, Em. Pellew pulled me off her. Once he finds out the truth, he will never let me back aboard her, and my career will be finished. Why did you have to do this to me, Em? At least, when I was the other way, I could forget what I had there."

Emily moved closer to Archie and put a hand on his arm. "We all wanted only to help you, Archie. Surely you realize that you do not belong in that other room, living that other life."

"It's the only life I have left, Em," said Archie wearily. "And it is just so much easier than the life I gave up."

"Easier? Archie Kennedy, I have never known you to take the easier path for anything! You worked so hard to get where you were - to put your past behind you, and become a fine officer. I KNOW what serving on the Indy meant to you, Archie. When you passed your Lieutenant's Exam - on the first try, Archie! - I had never seen you happier. You belong there. It has become a part of you."

Archie turned around and looked at Emily, his pain reflected in his eyes. "I was happy that day, Emily, not only because I passed my exam, but because that was the day I decided to ask you to become my wife."

"Yes," Emily said. "I remember."

They were silent for a moment, then Archie spoke. "It was a lifetime ago, Emily. Quite literally, in my case."

Gently, Emily reached up and touched his face. "Archie," she whispered.

With a cry, Archie pulled her into his arms, holding her close. THIS was where he belonged - he knew it with all his heart, just as surely as he knew it could never be. He buried his face in her hair.

Emily held him as tightly as she could. She would do almost anything to spare Archie any more pain. Time seemed to pause, and hold its breath, as the two stood there, lost in a world where there was only the two of them.

Archie raised his head, and looked down at Emily. A shock ran through her as she gazed into his brilliant sapphire eyes, and she caught her breath. Gently, Archie cupped her face in his hands, as he gently kissed her mouth. Caught up in their emotions and their memories, neither one of them heard the door quietly click open.

William Bush looked in, to find his wife in the arms of another man.

Chapter Seventeen

Without a sound, Bush quickly closed the door. He wanted to pretend he hadn't seen what he did, but the image was seared into his mind. Emily, kissing Archie. His wife, in the arms of her first love. Thoughts and emotions whirling through his head, he nearly ran downstairs.

The parlor was empty. Horatio had returned to Retribution, completely exhausted after the ordeal they'd all been through. Bush crossed to the table and poured himself a drink. As he lifted it to his lips, he thought "No - that's the way Kennedy would handle this." Disgusted with himself, he slammed the glass back on the table. He would never be like Archie Kennedy - never!

Suddenly, the atmosphere in the room - in the whole house - seemed stifling and containing. With a curse, Bush grabbed his hat and headed out the door.

*****

Upstairs, Archie gently drew away from Emily. "My apologies, Emily. I had no right - "

Emily put her hand on his arm. "No, Archie, do not apologize. I know what that was."

Archie put his hand over hers. "Do you, Em? Do you really?"

She smiled at him, the light of that smile seeping into the corners of his darkened soul, through the cracks of his defenses.

"It was goodbye, wasn't it, Archie."

Archie smiled as he slowly shook his head. "You know me too well, Em." He paused, and looked once more at the Indy. "I love you, Emily. I always will, but I can accept now that your heart is with William. It is time for me, too, to put the past behind me, and start looking to the future, however uncertain it may be. Just, think of me as someone who loved not wisely, but too well." He looked back at Emily.

Emily's smile widened. "You know your Shakespeare so well, Archie, but I do not agree with you. I do not believe that you loved unwisely, for I would never wish to give up the love we shared. It was very special, Archie, and you will always be important to me. I hope we can still remain close."

Archie's smile turned sad. "I am not sure that is possible, Emily. I want that too, but William will always stand between us. I can forgive you for what you did to me, Em, keeping me here, but I do not feel the same charity towards Horatio and your husband."

"Why not, Archie? They did it only because they care about you. Both of them. You know that Horatio would rather put a pistol to his head than cause you any pain, but he was right to do what he did. And, he did it, knowing full well that you would be angry at him when it was over - knowing that he could very well end up losing his best friend. Again."

"Can you not understand, Emily, that he stripped me of the only thing I had left? My right to choose, my right to live my life in the way *I* chose to. Whether he approved of my choice or not, it was MY choice. I cannot forgive him, Em, nor your husband."

Archie turned back and looked at Indefatigable. Emily silently watched him for a moment, then moved to the door. Unlocking and opening it, she said softly, "I am sorry you feel that way. Perhaps in time, you will see the truth, and come to an understanding of just how much you mean to them both. Goodbye, Archie. Please take care of yourself. I will always think of you fondly." She left the room, leaving the door open behind her.

It took several minutes for Archie to realize he was free. With a last look around at his latest prison, he went through the doorway, down the staircase, and out into the world. Not having any idea of where he was going or what he was doing, he let his feet wander where they would. Not surprisingly, he found himself on the docks, looking out at Indefatigable. Even at anchor, she was the most beautiful sight he could imagine. Archie grieved for what he had lost, and he felt his anger at Horatio and Bush rising. Damn them. If they had only left him alone, he wouldn't be here, sober, in full view of a living reminder of his horrible, wretched fall from grace. Standing there, Archie came to a realization. He needed a drink. Badly. With an angry snarl, he turned away from the Indy.

Only to find himself face-to-face with an equally angry William Bush.

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

"You dirty, low-life scum," growled Bush. "Have you finished with her, then? Are you done using her? Was it only a way for you to escape?"

Archie scrunched his nose in puzzlement. "I never understand you, Bushy. What are you talking about?"

"I SAW you, damn you. I saw you with Emily. I saw you with your hands all over my wife. By god, Kennedy, this is the last I will put up with!"

"Oh, stow it, Bush," said Archie irritably. "You have no idea what you saw."

"I know EXACTLY what I saw!" roared Bush, all reason fleeing from him. "You will not get away with it, you lily-livered coward!"

Archie jumped at that. "Coward?!" he bellowed, in his best Pellew impersonation. "You dare to insult me so? And Emily! You believe this of your wife?"

"No - I believe it of YOU! You have no morals, scum, and I'll have your head for forcing your attentions on my wife!"

Archie's head swam, and he literally saw red. Bush was accusing him of - NO! That was Jack Simpson's way, not Archie Kennedy's. He would never.... With an inarticulate cry of rage, he launched himself at Bush, knocking him down.

Roaring and bellowing at each other, fists flying and making painful contact, Archie and Bush rolled around in the dirt. Horatio, coming back ashore from Retribution, spied them as they fought furiously. Disbelieving, he began to bawl at the men to row faster. He jumped ashore and ran toward the fighting lieutenants.

"Archie! William!" he yelled ineffectually. The two men ignored him, and continued fighting. Archie got in a good punch, landing it solidly into Bush's midsection. A great gush of air was expelled with a mighty "oof" as Bush fell, then struggled to get to his feet.

"Mr. Bush! Mr. Kennedy! Stop this at once!" shrieked Horatio. Again, he was ignored. Bush came back swinging at Archie, landing a solid shot on his shoulder.

The same shoulder Horatio had performed surgery on. Archie howled in pain and fell back. Bush pressed his advantage, rushing Archie and tackling him, knocking them both to the ground.

Horatio waded into the melee'. He grabbed the back of Bush's uniform and dragged him to his feet. Bush, not knowing who the interloper was, turned around with a cry, fist raised. Blindly, he threw a punch.

Smack into Horatio's jaw. He dropped like a stone, landing unceremoniously on his arse. Bush froze, horrified. Archie, not seeing or caring who the third person in their midst was, scrambled to his feet and propelled himself at the unsuspecting Bush. Down they went, with Horatio futilely trying to stop them. Finally, he grabbed the collar of Archie's jacket, hauled him to his feet, and held him back.

"Let me go, dammit!" screamed Archie, struggling furiously and trying to slip out of Horatio's grasp. "I'll kill that bastard, I swear it! Let. Me. GO!!"

Horatio held onto his feisty friend as best he could, but it was difficult: Archie was practically jumping up and down, and spitting curses at Bush, who was slowly getting to his feet. Bush wiped away some blood from his mouth with the back of his hand, and hurled foul epithets of his own back at Archie.

"MISTER HORNBLOWER!!" roared a deep voice, familiar to them all. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS COMMOTION?" All three men turned towards the voice.

Looking like the wrath of God realized, Commodore Sir Edward Pellew stood there, in his immaculate uniform, fire blazing from his dark eyes.

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

Oh, no, thought Horatio. This cannot be happening. He released his stranglehold on Archie and stepped forward.

"My apologies, Commodore, we - "

"SILENCE!!" thundered Pellew. "I do not want to hear any feeble excuses. At attention, sirs!"

Chagrined, all three men drew themselves to attention. Pellew paced back and forth in front of them, his rage enveloping them like a cloud.

"I had thought to have a nice meal, and check on Indefatigable, but what do I find instead? Three officers - OFFICERS! - brawling in the street like ratings! Such a spectacle as I never thought to witness, and by GOD, had better never see again! Just look at the three of you. Never in my life have I seen such an unworthy lot to wear the King's un-ee-form!"

Archie snorted softly. "You've forgotten Jack Simpson," he muttered under his breath.

Horatio couldn't help it. He snickered.

Pellew whirled around. "A comment, Mr. Kennedy?" he bellowed.

Archie turned his best wide-eyed, innocent gaze to the Commodore. "Comment, sir? Me? No, sir, not at all, sir."

To his horror, Horatio felt laughter bubbling up inside. Oh, stop, he begged himself. Do not do this. He felt an attack of hilarity threaten to erupt, and fought to keep silent. Alas, it had no effect, and a small chortle escaped him.

Bush turned at the sound, and looked on in amazement as his commanding officer struggled not to laugh. HE certainly saw nothing humorous in the situation. Pellew would be well within his rights should he choose to court-martial Bush for striking a superior officer, albeit accidentally. No, this was definitely NOT funny.

Pellew stopped his pacing in front of Archie. Standing tall and looking imperiously down his nose at the dirty and disheveled lieutenant, he barked, "Mr. Kennedy. Are you sober?"

Archie flushed a bit. "Yes, sir."

"Well," growled Pellew. "That's the first time in HOW many months?"

Archie wisely kept his mouth shut.

Pellew turned next to Bush. Self-consciously, Bush drew himself up a little straighter.

"Mr. Bush. Does your wife approve of fighting?"

"Er, no, sir, I don't believe so, sir."

Pellew turned away, and Bush glared at Archie. Archie, his brief good humor broken, stared back murderously. Unfortunately for them, Pellew turned back and saw the look. His lips tightened as he looked at the two men who, he was quite sure, would have killed each other by now had he not arrived. He came to a decision.

"Mr. Hornblower."

"Yes, sir," Horatio said.

"I do believe you are in need of a 2nd Lieutenant on Retribution?"

Horatio was confused. "No, sir, I am not. We have a full complement of men and officers, and Mr. Jeffers acts as - "

"No, Mr. Hornblower," broke in the Commodore. "You are quite mistaken. I am assigning you a 2nd Lieutenant."

Horatio and Bush exchanged wary glances. What? On a sixth-rate sloop-of-war?

Pellew turned back to Archie. "Mr. Kennedy. You will report to Retribution tomorrow morning to take up your new position."

Archie could not believe what he had just heard. Serve on Retribution? With the two men he despised most in the world as his superior officers? That was just plain cruel!

"Sir, I protest," he broke out without thinking.

"Do you indeed, Mr. Kennedy?" said Pellew icily. "I would rethink my position if I were you, sir, for questioning my orders could have severe consequences for someone with your recent service record."

Archie caught the veiled threat in those words, and swallowed. "Aye, sir," he said weakly.

"Very well," said Pellew. "Mr. Hornblower. I will see you in my office in one hour."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Horatio, fervently hoping the world would end in half that time.

Pellew, with a final, baleful glare at Archie and Bush, turned and left. Horatio took a deep breath and looked at Bush.

"Mr. Bush. Please return to Retribution and have some quarters prepared for Mr. Kennedy."

"Sir!" growled Bush. "The Commodore cannot be serious! To have this, this, reprobate -"

"Mr. Bush!" commanded Horatio. "I gave you an order. If you do not mind your tongue, sir, Mr. Kennedy will be sharing quarters with YOU."

Bush choked down his response to THAT. "Aye, aye, sir." He headed towards the boat which would take him to his ship.

Horatio turned and looked at the remaining Lieutenant. "Archie," he said softly. "I know you do not want this, but it will be wonderful to serve with you again."

Archie turned angry eyes to him. "Correction, Commander," he snapped. "I will be serving UNDER you. I will do my duty, sir, but do not expect anything more. We are not friends."

Horatio calmly gazed at Archie. "Very well, Lieutenant," he said. "I will see you tomorrow. Please be sober when you report."

"Aye, AYE, sir," said Archie disdainfully. He turned on his heel, striding away from the docks. Horatio watched him go, then sighed. This was going to be a very difficult voyage, of that there was no doubt.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty

Bush returned to Retribution, grumbling to himself all the way. Having that scoundrel aboard would only cause trouble, certain sure. I wonder, he thought bitterly, if Horatio will have the stomach to hang me himself after I kill Kennedy, or if he will wait until we return home.

He climbed aboard his ship, his mood growing more foul with every step. Damn Retribution for being such a small ship! Damn Hornblower for bringing Kennedy to Bush's house! Damn Kennedy for, well, just being Kennedy! Damn the Commodore for assigning Kennedy to Retribution when they had no need for a 2nd Lieutenant! Damn the whole damn world!

As he climbed onto the deck, he stepped on a rope lying coiled there. Cursing, he gave the poor unsuspecting rope a vicious kick. Matthews saw him, and came over to the rail.

"Ever'thin' all right, sir?" he questioned innocently.

Bush turned livid eyes upon the man. "No, Matthews, it most certainly is NOT," he spat out. "We will be having a new lieutenant coming aboard tomorrow. We'll need to find some quarters for him - preferably the worst we can come up with."

Matthews was startled. "A new lieutenant, sir? Are you - ?"

Bush laughed bitterly. "Am I being replaced? I would much prefer that, Matthews. No, we are to have a 2nd Lieutenant join our ranks. A stupid, worthless - " he caught himself. "You might as well know, Matthews. It is Archie Kennedy."

Matthews' face lit up. "Really, sir? Lieutenant Kennedy? Ah, he's a fine officer, sir, and he'll be well received among the men." He stopped, and looked at Bush. "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but I thought you were friends with him? You're not pleased to have him aboard?"

Bush clenched his teeth. "No, Matthews, I am not. Mr. Kennedy and I have had a parting of the ways."

"Aye, sir, sorry, sir," said Matthews uncomfortably. "I'll just go and prepare some quarters for him, sir." Knuckling his forehead, Matthews went below decks.

Bush groaned. He should never have let his temper show in front of one of the men, especially one who looked so fondly upon Archie Kennedy. Dammit! He kicked at the rope again. This was going to be the worst voyage of his life.

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

Archie strode through the streets, not caring where he went. He couldn't believe the Commodore would do this to him! Surely he could see that throwing the three of them together on a ship, with nowhere to escape, was only going to result in tragedy. Obviously, Pellew still did not trust him, and so he was sending him away to sea with two nursemaids. Well, wasn't that the story of his life? Sent away by his father, by Captain Keene, by Simpson, by Pellew - not once, but twice. Now three times! Dammit! He knew it was the life of a sailor, but this was intolerable! Retribution, indeed.

Gradually, he began to gain an awareness of where he was. Far from the docks, this was a very nice part of town. Shops and businesses lined the street, and across a beautiful square was a church, its spires rising, beholding heaven. Archie, not a church-going man, still felt himself drawn to the building. Deciding he really had nothing better to do, he went inside.

The door closed behind him and shut out the sounds of the street. The hush was almost palpable. He walked about halfway up the aisle, then sat down in a pew.

The church was deserted, but Archie didn't feel alone. As he looked up at the beautiful stained-glass windows, a small shaft of sunlight broke through and painted a pattern on the floor before him. He turned his face toward the sunbeam.

"Abby," he said quietly. "I know you're here. I know how much you loved the serenity and peace you always found in church, and I remember how you always - gently - tried to get me to join you there. I miss you so much, my dear sister. I am truly sorry that I have disappointed you yet again, but I cannot change the way I feel. I cannot let go of the anger I feel towards Hornblower and Bush, and I cannot forgive them for what they did." He dropped his eyes to the floor. "I have nothing left, Abby. No family. No friends. No pride or honor. Oh, how I wish you were here. You were always the only person who loved me, no matter what my failings." Archie folded his arms across the back of the pew before him, and lay his head atop them. He sighed. "But, you're not here, and if I do not do this, I'll be hanged as a deserter." He looked back up at the intricately carved ceiling. "I want to live, Abby. I want you to be proud of me, as you once were. I will do this for you. Not for myself, not for Commodore Pellew, not for Commander Hornblower, but for you. I will serve aboard Retribution. But I will not forgive Bush and Hornblower. It is the best I can offer, Abby."

Archie bowed his head for a moment, then rose to his feet. He would take a room at the Dragon tonight, for he needed to report aboard early tomorrow. He shook his head. This was going to be the worst voyage of his life.

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

Exactly on time, Horatio presented himself in Commodore Pellew's office. He remained standing as the Commodore glared at him.

"Am I to receive an explanation, Commander Hornblower?" he barked.

"I - I am not sure I have one, sir." Blast! That was NOT what he wanted to say!

"No?" snapped Pellew, raising an eyebrow. "Have you taken to brawling in the street for sport, then?"

Horatio shifted uneasily. "No, sir, what I meant, sir, was I arrived after the fight began, so I do not know what precipitated it. I am sure it was just a minor misunderstanding, sir."

Pellew almost laughed at that. "A MINOR misunderstanding, Mr. Hornblower? Had you and I not been present, sir, I fear there would be two Lieutenants lying dead in the street right now. Am I to assume this has something to do with Mrs. Bush?"

"I would not presume to say, sir."

"You would not presume - " Pellew stopped and sat down. "Please, Mr. Hornblower, be seated."

Horatio sat. Pellew continued.

"Mr. Kennedy said he was sober. Do you believe he will remain so?"

Horatio pondered that. He couldn't tell the Commodore what had transpired since they last spoke, not without risking harm to Archie's career. Slowly, he said, "Yes, sir. I do believe he will be fit for duty, sir."

Pellew closed his eyes for a moment. Watching him, Horatio again realized what a toll Pellew's worry over Archie had taken on the man. At Horatio's assurance, he looked as if a heavy weight had been lifted from him, and Horatio felt obliged to lighten the load as best he could.

"He'll be all right, sir," he said softly. "The wall came down."

Pellew looked at him with an ironic smile. "Did you break through it, Mr. Hornblower, or was it Mr. Bush's fists that knocked it down?"

Horatio laughed. "Mr. Bush helped, sir, but he did not use his fists." His smile faded. "I do not know what that was about, sir, but I will find out."

Pellew shook his head. "My hope, in assigning Mr. Kennedy to Retribution, is that if the two of them are forced to work together to keep the ship afloat, they will be able to put their differences aside, for the good of the ship. You have a small number of officers, Commander, and squabbles amongst the few you have could prove deadly."

Horatio sighed. "They are both good officers, sir. I am sure they will work out some sort of solution."

Pellew nodded. "Very well, then Mr. Hornblower. Safe voyage."

Horatio stood. "Thank you, sir." Pellew dismissed him, and he left the office. He took a deep breath. Tomorrow he would sail, with his two best friends and Lieutenants more than likely at each other's throats. This was going to be the worst voyage of his life.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

Archie arrived early the next morning, and climbed into the shoreboat. As he was rowed out to Retribution, he tried to focus his mind on the task ahead. He could do this. He HAD to do this. He would just do his best to stay away from Hornblower and Bush, and everything would be all right.

As he climbed over the side and boarded Retribution, he was greeted by the best possible sight he could imagine. Matthews waited there for him, a large smile wreathing his grizzled face.

"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Kennedy, sir. It be right good to see you again, sir."

Archie grinned back at him, a genuinely pleased smile. "Matthews! It's been much too long!"

"Aye, sir," said Matthews, gathering up Archie's sea chest from where it waited on deck. "If you'll just follow me, sir, we'll get you squared away, and then the Captain wishes to see you."

Archie's heart dropped as he followed Matthews below. Well, it had to happen. Might as well get it over with. Matthews led him to an extremely cramped section of the ship, and placed his sea chest on the floor by the cot. Archie looked around.

"I'm sorry, sir," said Matthews. "We di'nt know we had a new Lieutenant coming on board, and there wasn't much we could do."

Archie shook his head. "That's quite all right, Matthews. This will do nicely."

"Aye, sir," said Matthews, moving to the door. He hesitated, looking back at Archie. "Sir, I just want to say - it be good to have you servin' with us again. It feels, right, ya know, sir?"

Archie smiled at him. "Matthews, being aboard with you here, will be what makes this voyage bearable. You're a good man, Matthews, and an even better friend."

Matthews beamed. "Thank ye, sir." With that, he withdrew, leaving Archie alone in his new quarters. He sighed, and looked around. There was no doubt in his mind that Bush was responsible for his miserable living accommodations, but he would never give the man the satisfaction of knowing he was unhappy with them. Besides, he'd certainly lived in worse places. Recently, in fact. He sighed again, and left the tiny room. Time to report to his commanding officer.

Archie knocked on Horatio's door, then went inside. He stood rigidly at attention. "Lieutenant Kennedy, reporting for duty, sir."

Horatio looked at Archie. Seeing him standing there, in all formality and distance, it was as if a stranger stood before him, and that hurt. However, Horatio pushed that emotion aside, and addressed his new officer.

"Lieutenant Kennedy. Welcome aboard, sir. I have decided to place you in a position where your talents will be of the most use. You will be the new gunnery officer. If you will find Mr. Jeffers, he will familiarize you with the cannons, and Lieutenant Bush will go over the watches with you. Do you have any questions?"

"No, sir," said Archie crisply.

Horatio nodded. "You are dismissed then, Lieutenant." He watched as Archie left the room, and he wondered how long this formality was going to last. He refused to accept that Archie's friendship was lost to him forever, but he knew all too well how stubborn the man could be.

Over the next several weeks, Horatio realized he'd been wrong. He'd had no IDEA how stubborn Archie could be. Oh, his work could not be faulted. The guns were in magnificent condition, the crews responded exceptionally well to Archie's leadership, and Horatio had heard nothing but praise from the men regarding the new Lieutenant. Nor could his demeanor towards his superior officers be questioned. To both Horatio and Bush, Archie was unfailingly polite. He never questioned an order, never showed any resentment or anger towards them, and always performed above and beyond what was asked of him. No, the problem was much less tangible.

Archie avoided the superior officers, unless it was duty related. He never offered an opinion or observation, or even a remark. He never spoke to Bush or Horatio, except to respond to a question or an order. He never dined with them, preferring to take his meals alone, or in the company of Midshipman Jeffers, with whom he had struck up a friendship. He spent most of his off-duty time in his quarters, reading, Horatio assumed, his beloved Shakespeare.

Horatio had questioned Bush about the fight on the docks, but Bush had refused to give any details. Horatio didn't want to order him to talk about it, since the incident was ostensibly a personal matter between the two Lieutenants, but he knew if it wasn't addressed soon, there would be an explosion of unparalleled magnitude aboard his ship. He couldn't risk that. It was time to do something.

He told Matthews to fetch Archie to him in five minutes. In the meantime, he invited Bush into his quarters, hoping for one last chance to get the story out of him.

Bush knocked and entered. "You wished to see me, sir?"

Horatio nodded. "Please come in, William." At Bush's look, he said, "This is not between officers, this is between friends."

Bush looked at him warily, knowing what this was about. "We've been here before, sir. I do not wish to discuss it. Unless you order me to, I will not talk about the fight. It was personal - just between me and Mr. Kennedy."

Horatio sighed. "I do not wish to order you to do this, William, but what choice do I have? I - " He broke off as a knock sounded at the door. "Come in, Mr. Kennedy."

Bush glared at Horatio. He should have known this was coming.

Archie entered the room. When he saw Bush, his face set into the emotionless mask he had worn often since boarding Retribution. "You asked to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Archie. Please come in. First, I would like to commend you on your exemplary conduct since your arrival. The men have grown quite fond of you, and speak very highly of your leadership."

Archie's face softened a bit. "They're a fine crew, sir - good men, all." His face hardened, and he looked at Bush.

"Go ahead, Archie," Horatio said softly. "We are here as men, not as officers. If you still have a problem with William, please tell me what it is. William has not spoken to me of the fight, or what started it. Perhaps you will do me the courtesy?"

Archie looked straight ahead. "I'd rather not, sir."

Horatio took a deep breath. "And if I were to order you to?"

Archie was silent for a moment, then said flatly, "Then I would say it was because he called me a coward, sir."

Horatio swung around to Bush. "Is that true, William?"

Bush's eyes were flashing. OK, thought Horatio. Perhaps the dam will finally break.

"I spoke only the truth, Horatio," declared Bush.

"You honestly believe that Archie is a coward? After everything he's done? Why would you say that?"

"Why?" Bush growled. "Maybe because he used my wife to gain his freedom. Maybe because he forced his attentions on her - "

Archie swore, and moved toward Bush. Instantly, Horatio was between the two of them, keeping them apart.

"That's a damn lie!" snapped Archie. "I would never force myself on anyone, especially Emily. I don't know where - "

"I SAW you!" roared Bush. "I saw you kissing my wife!"

Horatio looked at Archie in surprise. "Archie? Is that true?"

Archie stepped back, then looked around Horatio at Bush. "Did you ask your wife if I forced her? Did you ask her why I kissed her?"

"NO!" bellowed Bush. "I never got the chance! But Emily would never betray me, unless she were forced!"

Horatio held up his hand. "A moment, please, gentlemen. William, I am not going to take the side of one of you against the other, but I can assure you, Archie would never be capable of what you accuse. It is the truth, William."

Bush still could not let go of his anger. If Archie hadn't forced Emily, that meant she had been a willing participant, and he refused to believe that. He glowered at Archie.

"Perhaps your friend from Indefatigable would not, but this man - " he pointed an accusing finger at Archie " - this man is capable of anything. You dare to suggest that my wife would freely submit to another man - "

"I suggest no such thing," argued Archie. "You are simply too bull-headed and obstinate to listen - "

"Archie, that's enough," interrupted Horatio. "And William, you are wrong about him. There is too much in Archie's past involving the forcing of attention, and he simply would not behave in such a manner."

Bush was furious. He would never win this fight, not with Horatio so blindly believing in Archie's innocence. "I know what I saw, sir," he hissed. "I will not soon forget the sight. Now, if I may be excused, sir, I have duties to perform."

Horatio nodded. The problem wasn't resolved, but the door had opened a crack. "Very well, Mr. Bush. Dismissed."

Without even a glance at either man, Bush left the room. Horatio looked at Archie.

"Would you like to tell me why you were kissing Mrs. Bush?" he asked.

"No, sir," said Archie tensely. "It's really none of your business. Sir."

Horatio gazed sadly at Archie. "Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy, it has become my business. I cannot have my two Lieutenants bickering constantly amongst themselves. The safety of my ship and my men comes first, Lieutenant, before anything else, and if I do not have the full concentration of my officers, the ship may be imperiled. This must be resolved. Soon."

"I don't see how, sir."

"Well then, Lieutenant Kennedy, I suggest you find a way, and do it quickly. You are dismissed, sir."

Archie left the cabin, and Horatio sat down at his desk. How was he ever going to get two such obstinate officers to see reason? I would much prefer a fight with the French, he thought - at least there my path is clear. He sighed as he began going over the navigational charts. At least things couldn't possibly get any worse.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

The next morning, Horatio went abovedecks, only to find Matthews waiting for him, a worried look on his face.

"Glass is dropping, sir," he said. "Steadily."

Horatio scanned the horizon. The sky was growing ominous, and lightning danced in the darkened distance. "Very well, Matthews. Inform Lieutenant Bush, and make sure all is tied down before the storm hits."

And hit, the storm did. It nearly took Horatio's breath away with the suddenness of the attack. Retribution heeled suddenly, and he heard a splinter and a crash, followed by the shouts of his men. He heard Bush bellowing at the men to heave-to and get the tops'l in, and he prayed it was not too late. He found Archie securing the guns, and cursing as Retribution kept pitching and undoing the work already done. The wind whipped a gale around him as he struggled aft to find Bush. The rain beat down mercilessly, making the deck slippery, and he nearly fell several times.

"Mr. Bush!" he yelled, his voice barely audible through the din of the shrieking wind. "Report!"

Bush turned to him, and Horatio felt a deep cold settle into his belly. Bush, his seasoned, extremely competent 1st Lieutenant, was afraid. There was no other way to describe the look on his face. "It's bad, sir," he bellowed. "It came on too fast - we didn't have time to get all the sails in or get everything secured. She's fighting something fierce, sir."

Archie appeared beside Horatio. "We lost the number seven gun, sir!" he yelled. "Pitched right into the sea - almost took Cargill with it. Knocked a hole in the hull on her way down - we're taking on water."

"Pumps?" shouted Horatio.

"Working, sir - I've got Styles manning the crew. There's more, sir."

Horatio didn't like the sound of Archie's voice. "Yes?"

"When it pitched, the carriage went with it, but not all the way down. It's hanging over the edge, sir."

Horatio could picture it. The heavy cannon carriage, knocking against the hull of Retribution - in this ferocious storm, that could smash a huge hole in her side, and then....

"Very well, Mr. Kennedy. Take Lieutenant Bush and see to repairs."

Archie nodded, and he and Bush took off for belowdecks, to the gap where Number Seven used to be. Horatio turned his attention back to the main deck. Was it his imagination, or was there a break in the wind? He prayed so, thinking of the dangerous job his two Lieutenants were undertaking.

Bush swore when he saw what awaited him. Number Seven had been secured, but the sudden pitch of the ship had snapped the lines holding her, and she had smashed through the hold. The rope holding the carriage was wedged a good six feet below the open port, with no easy way to cut it loose. He looked at Archie, then called Styles away from the pumps.

"You'll have to lower me down," he shouted over the roar of the crashing waves. "We'll secure to the other gun, and I'll cut the rope."

"Begging your pardon, sir," Archie yelled back over the cacophony. "I am the junior officer here, and more expendable. With less weight to lower - "

"No, Mr. Kennedy. You will not have to lower me far, and you are still recovering. Let's go."

Working as quickly as they could, the three men secured a line around the guns, then around Bush. He stepped to the hole in the hull, then glanced at Archie, who gave him a small nod. Taking a deep breath, he climbed out the hole, and into the darkened maelstrom.

The wind tore at him, and he banged against the ship. He could barely see for the rain beating against his face, but he dared not let go the rope to wipe his eyes, for fear of falling into the angry sea below. Archie and Styles played out rope, and he swung a little off to the side, almost reaching the carriage. Retribution heeled again, and he could feel the sea grabbing at his feet. Styles dropped to one knee, using all his massive strength to pull him back. As the ship righted herself, Bush was swung right to the carriage. Desperately, he grabbed for it. There! He had it! He began sawing at the rope, but it was tough going. It seemed to take forever. His arms tired, but he ignored the fatigue and kept working, until finally the carriage broke free and plummeted to the sea.

At that instant, Retribution broke sharply. Bush was slammed against the side, and he cried out in pain as his arm shattered. Cursing in agony, he tried to pull himself around with his good arm, but the rope was wrapped around his shoulders, and he couldn't move.

Archie and Styles saw what happened, and heard Bush's cry of pain. Archie yelled to Styles, "Secure his lead. Then help me rig up another rope - I'm going down after him."

Working quickly, Styles lowered Archie down to Bush. After several tries, he was able to grab hold of the older man and unwrap the rope. He motioned up to Styles to raise Bush up. It was a slow process, not aided at all by the near constant pitching of the ship, but finally Styles pulled Bush through the hole. Bush stood by, cradling his broken arm, as Styles began to raise Archie up. Through pain-filled eyes, he noticed something.

"Wait!" he screamed at Styles. "For god's sake, man, wait! The rope is splitting!" He struggled to get over to the hole. Just as he got there, the rope broke.

Archie fell into the churning sea.

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

"NO!!" screamed Bush. "No! God in heaven! Kennedy!" He was at the hole, and would have leaned out, but Styles grabbed him and pulled him back.

"It's no good, sir! He's gone!"

Bush struggled against Styles' powerful grip. "No! We have to try to find him - we have to TRY!" He was almost sobbing.

Styles pulled him further inside the hold. "Sir! You know there's no chance, not with the seas like this! You got to go tell the Cap'n, sir!"

Bush halted his struggle. Horatio. God - what would this do to him, losing his friend for the third time? And to find out, in the midst of this squall, with no time to grieve. It wasn't fair. He looked at Styles, noticing the man looked as sick as he himself felt.

"As soon as it quiets a bit, make sure the carpenter repairs this. I will go find the captain."

With a heavy heart, and ignoring his aching arm, Bush went topside. The wind had died down drastically, he noticed automatically, but the rain still beat down as hard as before.

He found his Captain aft, talking to Jeffers. He stood back, and waited for Horatio to come to him. There was nowhere for privacy on a ship such as this, but he couldn't tell Horatio in front of the men. He owed him that much.

Horatio finished with Jeffers, then walked over to Bush, taking note of the way Bush was cradling his arm. "Mr. Bush. Your arm! Are you all right?" Bush nodded. "You were successful, I hope?"

Bush swallowed past the thickness in his throat. "The carriage was disengaged, sir, with no further damage to the ship."

"Very good, Mr. Bush. That cannot have been easy. Is Mr. Kennedy inspecting the remaining guns?"

Bush forced the words out. "No, sir, he, he - " Bush stood up straight, and looked at Horatio with compassion. "I regret to inform you, sir, that in the process of rescuing me, and despite the best efforts of Styles, Mr. Kennedy fell into the sea and was lost."

Horatio felt as if the deck had fallen from beneath him, and he was suspended in midair. Archie? Overboard? This had to be a very poor joke. One look at Bush's face, though, and he knew the man spoke the truth. A coldness crept into his soul.

"You are injured, Mr. Bush. Go see the surgeon."

"But sir!" Bush cried out in despair. "Mr. Kennedy - "

"Is lost," finished Horatio. "Nothing can change that now." He turned and walked away. Bush watched him leave, then went below to see the doctor.

For the next several hours, Horatio moved as if in a trance. The squall had passed, and the seas were calming, but there were a great many repairs to be done. Retribution would not be going anywhere for awhile, for her sails were almost completely destroyed, and her rudder demolished.

Horatio kept a mask of professionalism on his face while on deck. He doubted whether the men abovedecks knew of Archie's demise, for there was absolutely no time for gossip. Finally, he headed to his cabin. On the way, he ran into Midshipman Witt.

"Mr. Witt," he said. "Please find Matthews and send him to my cabin. Immediately."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Witt.

Horatio entered his cabin, and stood facing the back wall. He would not cry - he would NOT. This happened to men all the time in the Navy, and all sailors accepted the hazard as part of their duty. Archie had died while doing something he loved - serving aboard a ship at sea. This time, at least, it had been an honorable death.

A knock sounded, and Matthews entered.

"You wanted to see me, sir?"

Horatio turned to the seaman, and nodded. "Matthews. Have you spoken to Styles recently?"

Matthews frowned. "No, sir, not since well before the storm hit. Is somethin' wrong, sir?"

Horatio took a deep breath and looked the older man in the eye. "Matthews, I wished to tell you this personally, knowing of your friendship with Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye, sir, he's a good Lieutenant, sir, one of the best I ever served with - after you, of course, sir. He always treated me like a friend, sir, and I consider him one, too. Why, sir? Somethin' happen?"

"Matthews, I'm sorry. During the storm, while trying to save Lieutenant Bush and the ship, Mr. Kennedy went overboard."

It took a lot to shock the veteran sailor, but this did. "Gone, sir?" he whispered.

Horatio nodded, and felt his chin begin to tremble at the naked grief on Matthews' face. He clenched his hands to ward off the pain, but it didn't really help. "I would appreciate it if you would inform the men. We will have a service at dawn."

"Aye, sir," said Matthews sadly. He looked at Horatio. "Forgive me, sir, if I'm oversteppin', but I know what he meant to you. Are you a'right, sir?"

Horatio shook his head, knowing he could be honest for a moment, in front of this man who had served with him for so many years. "No, Matthews, I am not. But I will be. Eventually."

Matthews nodded and moved to the door. "Aye, sir," he said quietly. "That's what he'd want." He left the room.

Horatio sank into his chair, and put his head in his hands. "Why?" he whispered. "Why is it, whenever Archie gets his life back together and headed forward, why is it taken away? He did not deserve this."

Horatio sat there for a very long time, remembering all that he and Archie had been through together. How Archie had befriended him aboard Justinian, while he himself was being besieged by the devil incarnate. The pure delight when they all transferred to Indefatigable, and away from the stink of Justinian. Archie's glow after their first battle together. His own grief when Archie was supposedly lost after Simpson cut him adrift, and the joy he had felt at finding his friend alive, years later. Archie racing across a bridge about to explode, to drag Horatio to safety, at the risk of his own life. The jump off the cliff. Archie's final, selfless gift to Horatio. His return to Horatio's life, and posting to Retribution. The memories came in waves, and Horatio was unable to stop them. The pain was almost unendurable. As he sat there, looking at his shaking hands, Horatio made a decision. Never again would he allow himself to become close to another human being. No. It was too painful. It was much easier to be alone, so that is what he would do. It should be easy for him. It was the way he had been before Archie came into his life, so he would go back to being that "solitary" man again. Yes. That was the answer.

But why did it still hurt so much?

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Horatio had visited Lieutenant Bush, who had given his report of the details of the incident, and then he had held a short ceremony for Lieutenant Kennedy. Avoiding everyone afterwards, he retired to his cabin, wishing only to be alone. There was still one more duty he had to perform, and he knew it was going to be difficult. He took pen and paper in hand, and began.

Commodore Pellew,

There is no easy way to say this, sir. Lieutenant Kennedy has been lost.
Retribution encountered a severe storm, and in attempting to save the
ship, Lieutenant Kennedy went overboard. Perhaps it will ease your mind
to know, sir, that Lieutenant Kennedy willingly gave his life to save that
of Lieutenant Bush, and in all his time serving aboard, he conducted
himself in an exemplary manner. His loss will be felt by all aboard.

On a personal note, sir, I would greatly appreciate it if you could
find time to visit Mrs. Bush, and see how she fares. Lieutenant Bush
has written her, but I would feel much better if she were to have
someone to talk to. She and Mr. Kennedy were very close, as you know.

I regret that I am unable to deliver this message to you in person.
Retribution suffered a great deal of damage, and we will affect
repairs at sea, but it will take several days at best. I am hoping
for another ship to pass, so that this missive may be sent to you.
I remain,

Your obedient servant
Commander Horatio Hornblower

 

As Horatio reread the letter, his grief welled up again, and tears spilled from his eyes. A few dropped onto the paper, but he did not blot them away. The Commodore would understand. He knew the depths of Horatio's affection for Archie. As he sealed the letter, a knock came at his door.

"Come," he said quietly.

Lieutenant Bush, his left arm in a sling, entered the room, carrying his letter to Emily. He handed it to Horatio, who took it and put it with his own.

"Sir," said Bush hoarsely. "May we talk?"

Horatio motioned for him to sit down. Bush sat in the chair, nervously fiddling with his hat, his eyes riveted to the floor. Finally, he looked up.

"I don't know how to do it, Horatio," he cried, his voice anguished. "I don't know how to deal with the fact that he gave his life for me. If I had done as he asked, and let him be the one to cut the cannon loose, this would never have happened. How can you ever forgive me? It's all my fault that he is dead."

"No, William," said Horatio wearily. "Had Mr. Kennedy been the one to cut the carriage loose, he still could have become trapped in the lines, and had you gone to aid him, the rope would still have broken, and you would have been the one to fall. Emily would now be a widow. Archie would never have wanted her to feel such pain."

"But she will feel pain," Bush whispered. "She loved him, once. I fear she will grieve for him for a very long time."

"As will we all," said Horatio, nearly inaudibly.

Bush looked at him. "How did you do it, Horatio?" he asked. "How did you accept that he gave his life for yours, in Kingston? I have never felt guilt such as this! I know men die, even friends, and I can accept that. Why is this so different?"

"I wish I could answer that, William, but I cannot."

Bush lowered his head and sighed. "Perhaps it is because things were so bad between us lately, yet he had no hesitation in risking his life to save me. Despite everything, he was a better man than I ever gave him credit for. I just wish he hadn't had to die to make me realize it."

"Aye," Horatio whispered. "He was a good man, and more." He looked again at Bush. "William. I hate to bring this up now, but you surely must realize that Archie is - WAS - incapable of forcing his affection on anyone. Yes, he loved Emily. But he would never hurt her like that."

Bush sighed. "I want to believe you, Horatio, I do. But I saw what I saw." He shrugged. "It all seems so inconsequential now. Archie is dead, and the truth died with him."

Horatio shook his head. "No, William, it did not. There is still someone else who knows the truth. Did you not ask Emily?"

Bush flushed slightly. "No. I was so angry that I left the house without confronting her. I believed she was with him willingly - it wasn't until I saw Archie at the docks that I realized he had to have been forcing her in order to gain his escape, that she would not betray me so. Then there was the fight at the docks, and we sailed the next morning, so I did not see her."

Horatio was troubled. "You never mentioned to her what you had seen."

Bush looked down, ashamed. "No. I merely sent her a note telling her we had orders from the Commodore to set sail, and that I would see her when we returned home."

Horatio was quiet for a moment. "I imagine the two of you will have much to discuss when we arrive."

Bush raised his head and looked at Horatio. "Sir. I know how you must be feeling. If there is anything I can do - "

Horatio began rolling up the charts on his desk. "No, Mr. Bush," he said, a trifle more harshly than he wished. "There is nothing to be done."

"Aye, sir," Bush said dejectedly. "I'll just go topside, then."

Bush left the cabin, and Horatio closed his eyes. He hadn't wanted to be so rude to his 1st Lieutenant, but in the long run, it would be for the best. From now on, he would keep everyone at arm's distance.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

The next morning, Horatio went abovedecks. He saw Bush overseeing the repair of the sails, and they nodded to each other. Cargill approached him.

"Sir, the wind has changed."

Horatio looked up, and scowled. "We seem to be retreating, Mr. Cargill. I do not wish to revisit the part of the sea we just left."

"No, sir," Cargill said unhappily. "Shall we drop anchor?"

Horatio considered. "No. Leave it be." He frowned at the man. "Mr. Cargill. I appreciate you telling me this, but where is Matthews?"

Cargill's gaze drifted skyward. "He's up there, sir."

Horatio looked up. Matthews was aloft, a glass in his hand, scanning the horizon.

"He's been up there since dawn, sir. And he was up there until after sunset last night."

Horatio was puzzled. "We have lookouts, Mr. Cargill. What is he doing?"

Cargill hesitated, then said quietly, "I believe he is searching for some sign of Lieutenant Kennedy, sir. He's taking it real hard."

"Thank you, Mr. Cargill. Please return to your regular duties."

Cargill nodded and moved off. Horatio called up to Matthews.

"Matthews! A moment, please."

Matthews agilely descended the ropes and stood beside Horatio. "Yes, sir?"

Horatio lowered his voice so no one but Matthews could hear him. "Matthews, I appreciate what you are doing, but it is a lost cause. Lieutenant Kennedy is dead."

"But, sir!" said Matthews. "If there is a chance - "

"There is not," interrupted Horatio coldly. "You have certainly been at sea long enough to know that. You know there is no hope."

Rarely did Matthews get angry, and never in front of an officer, but he couldn't keep quiet. "Sir, there's always hope. Lieutenant Kennedy, he come back from worse than this. He be your friend, sir. How can ye abandon him?"

That accusation stung Horatio, and his response was swift, his voice rising as he moved to stand directly in front of Matthews. "I did not abandon him, Matthews - he died. Now, I will not have you wasting any more time on frivolous searching. Get back to work."

Matthews was furious. Clenching his jaw, he said "Aye, aye, sir." As he began to move off, Horatio stopped him.

"One more thing, Matthews. Consider that an order. I do not want to see you aloft again. Understood?"

Matthews just barely held himself back from glaring at his commanding officer. "Aye, AYE, sir," he said, and stomped toward the bow.

"Don't you think you were a little rough on him, sir?" came Bush's voice quietly from behind him.

Horatio turned. "He is wasting his time, Mr. Bush, and I need him to work on repairing the ship."

"You know he is hurting, sir. Perhaps it is merely a way for him to grieve."

"There is no time for grief," snapped Horatio. "There is too much work to be done. Sailors drown all the time, and searching for a dead one is a waste of time, not a way to grieve."

Bush looked at him sadly. "We all grieve in different ways, sir. Matthews' choice is to hold out hope for a man who treated him as a friend and an equal. Apparently, some choose to grieve by shutting themselves away, and denying others their own choice of methods."

Horatio's eyes flashed. "You are dangerous close to insubordination, Lieutenant. I suggest you take your theories and get back to your duty. You and Matthews may grieve on your off-duty time." He walked away.

Bush watched him go, and shook his head sorrowfully. "And what about you, sir?" he thought. "You are never off duty - when will you grieve for your fallen friend?"

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

A ship had been sighted shortly after noon. It was the Dauntless, who, while not heading directly home herself, was due to rendezvous with the Jewel, who was. Horatio had his and Bush's letters transferred to her, and her Captain loaned them what little stores he could. Dauntless sailed off, and the men of Retribution returned to work. They should be ready in about two days, thought Lieutenant Bush, cradling his fractured arm. He would be very glad to get home and see Emily.

He noticed that the wind was freshening just a little bit, but as long as the currents ran opposite, and until they could rig up a makeshift rudder, Retribution would continue to move backwards, towards a place none of the crew wanted to remember - a place where one of their own had fallen. Still, Horatio refused to drop anchor. Bush wondered briefly if his Captain wanted to return there, perhaps to punish himself. Even though Horatio now refused to even mention Archie's name, Bush knew he had to be suffering terribly, for he had become a different man in the last two days. He was not cruel to the men, but he seemed to drive them much harder than normal. Bush had heard no grumbling from the men, and he suspected that Matthews or Styles had discussed with the crew the great friendship between Archie and Horatio, and the men were respecting that. Well, he amended, it was probably Styles who'd talked to the crew. Matthews wasn't doing much talking at all.

His eyes sought out the weathered sailor. Matthews certainly pitched in and did his share, but he did not join in the laughter and song that always accompanied a well-treated crew. Bush wondered if it was his grief over the loss of Archie, or if it was because of his dressing-down by the Captain. Probably a bit of both, he decided. He called Matthews over to him.

"Yes, sir?" inquired Matthews, wiping his hands on his pants.

"Matthews. How goes repairs on the sails?"

"Jus' 'bout done, sir. Mr. Jeffers done a fine job overseein' everythin'. He'll make a fine lieutenant someday...." Matthews' voice trailed off, and Bush knew he was thinking of another lieutenant. That gave him the opening he needed.

"Matthews, I know the regard you held Mr. Kennedy in," he began.

Matthews dropped his head. "Aye, sir, he were one of the best, no disrespect, sir."

"None taken, Matthews. I am only sorry that it took this tragedy to remind me of just what a good man he was." He paused, and put his hand on Matthews' arm. Matthews jerked his head up in surprise at the gesture, and Bush continued on softly.

"Do not be ashamed to grieve for him, Matthews. You two had a long history together."

"Aye," said Matthews quietly. "I watched 'im grow up, from just a scared boy, to a fine man. Always treated me with respect, he did - always. An' he stood up for those that couldn't stand up for themselves, like poor Mr. Wellard, and he stood by Mr. Hornblower no matter what." He stopped for a moment. "That's what I don't get, sir!" he burst out. "The Captain acting like nothin' went wrong - like he don't even care!"

Bush removed his hand from Matthews' arm, and shook his head. "I think that the problem is that he cares too much. He just can't show it to the men. Matthews, I know you to be a fair man. Do not judge the Captain for how he treated you this morning. He cannot take the time to search for Mr. Kennedy's body, even though I can promise you that he wants to do nothing else. His anger at you came out of frustration at not being able to do anything himself."

Matthews looked out to sea. "I jus' wanted to look, sir. Di'nt seem right to just leave him behind like that."

Bush looked at the sailor, and made a decision. If the Captain didn't like it, well, he would just deal with it later. "Matthews," he said crisply. "We need another lookout. Take a glass and go aloft."

Matthews glanced at him disbelievingly. "Sir! Cap'n ordered me not to!"

"And I am ordering you TO. Yes, his order outweighs mine, unless I see the need for something when he is not present. Now, take your position."

Matthews looked at Bush with gratitude and respect in his eyes. "Aye, aye, sir, thank you, sir."

Bush watched him ascend the lines, and sighed. Now, if he could only help Hornblower so easily....

The day passed slowly. The men worked hard. Retribution continued to drift. Matthews stayed aloft, never ceasing his surveillance of the sea.

The sun was setting, a truly beautiful sight, when Bush came back abovedecks after a brief meal. He closed his eyes, letting the lingering rays warm his face, when he heard a strangled cry. His eyes snapped open.

"Windward!" hollered Matthews. Bush raced to the rail. Was it an enemy ship? Matthews leaned down from his spot aloft. "An island, sir!"

Bush was confused. So what if it was an island? Unless Retribution was headed for it, there was no cause for alarm. He looked out over the sea, and his confusion mounted. That? That was hardly an island - more like a tiny point of land - no threat to the ship.

As Matthews descended the lines and stood by his side, Bush looked at him in utter bafflement.

"Why the excitement, Matthews? It's just a strip of land -"

"I'd like to know the answer to that, myself," came Horatio's commanding voice. "I thought I ordered you to stay on deck, Matthews."

Bush stepped in before Matthews could speak. "I sent him aloft, sir. Repairs are nearly finished, and I thought another lookout would be prudent."

Horatio stared at him. "Countermanding my orders, Mr. Bush?"

"No, sir. Only thinking of the good of the ship, sir."

Horatio turned to Matthews, who was practically squirming next to Bush. "What is it, Matthews?"

Matthews shot Bush a triumphant look, but addressed his Captain. "There's something there, sir, on the other side of the beach. I think it's a body, sir."

Horatio's face went white, and he snatched the glass from Matthews' hand and strode to the rail. He pointed the glass at the beach. He stared for so long, saying nothing, that Bush wanted to shake him, and scream at him to tell them something - anything. Finally, Horatio brought the glass down and lowered his head.

"Matthews," he said calmly. "Please take a boat and collect Lieutenant Kennedy's body from the beach."

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

"No," whispered Commodore Pellew as he re-read the first paragraph of Hornblower's letter. Kennedy - dead? Dear god, what a waste. Such a fine, promising young officer, cut down in his prime....

He stood and looked out the skylight. Indefatigable was about to sail, and life went on, but he felt his world crumbling around him. Face it, Edward, he told himself. Archie was much more to you than just another officer. He had been sincere, that night in the pub, when he told Hornblower and Kennedy that he thought of them as his own sons, and the grief he felt at Archie's death tore a hole in his very soul. Now he truly understood Horatio's devastation in Kingston, when he thought Archie to have died. Pellew had lost more men, at sea and in battle, than he could count, but this was different. One image kept coming back to him: Archie, pale and ill from his years of imprisonment, being the first to volunteer to return to prison, simply because his friend and commanding officer had given his word that they would return. It was that day that Pellew had realized the strength of will and character in the young Midshipman. Prior to that time, Pellew had viewed the friendship between Hornblower and Kennedy as more of a protector and protected relationship than an equal friendship, but then he had seen that spark of strength and loyalty, and he understood what Horatio had seen in the man. And now, that spark was forever extinguished. Never again would he see his lieutenant on the quarterdeck of Indefatigable, or hear any of his sometimes irreverent remarks that never failed to amuse him, although he would never let Mr. Kennedy see him laugh.

Pellew felt the sting of tears as he stared blankly out the skylight. Horatio must be in bad shape, he thought. It was difficult enough to lose someone under your command, but when that man was a close friend, it could become unbearable. He knew Hornblower would never allow his men to see his grief, and that would make it even harder, for he would lock that pain inside and never let it out. Thankfully, at least, he had his friend, Lieutenant Bush, with him to help.

Thinking of Bush made Pellew pick up Horatio's letter again. Although the Indy would sail soon, he could spare a few minutes for Mrs. Bush. He went up on deck and found Lieutenant Crane.

"I will be going ashore, Mr. Crane," he said, his face impassive. "I must see to something before we sail. Please continue preparations as normal, and have a shoreboat readied for me."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Crane respectfully. "Will you be long, sir?"

Pellew shook his head. "No, I will be back well before we sail." It wouldn't give him much time with Emily, but at least it would be something.

He arrived at the Bush residence, and was escorted to the parlor by a servant, where he awaited Emily. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to say to her. All he could think of were the last words he had said to Archie, and how harsh they had been. If only he had known....

He turned as Emily entered the room. She had been crying, he could see. Her expressive eyes were rimmed in red, and she was quite pale. When she saw who her visitor was, she stopped.

"It's true, then," she said quietly.

Pellew nodded, suddenly unable to speak past the lump in his throat.

Emily looked at him, and then her face crumpled. "No!" she screamed, a wild, feral sound that ripped at his heart. She dropped to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Not even thinking, Pellew crossed to her, knelt down, and took her in his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder. Pellew rocked her gently back and forth, telling her it would be all right, while his own tears finally fell at last.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Bush watched as Horatio went below, then turned to observe the preparations. Oh, how he wished to be going himself, but with his broken arm, he would be more hindrance than help. He stole a glance at Matthews. The man's earlier exhilaration was gone, replaced by a somber demeanor. Well, he had his answer, even if it wasn't quite what he was looking for. Bush knew that Matthews, in his heart of hearts, had held out a forlorn hope for finding Archie alive, but it was not to be. At least now he would have a proper funeral.

He watched as the men rowed out to the beach. A small, sad smile touched his lips as he noticed Styles in the boat, too. That was fitting. Though Styles had not been as close to Archie as Matthews, Bush knew the big man had a soft spot for the lieutenant, dating back to their time in Justinian.

He put the glass to his eye as the men reached the beach. For a second, they stood there, heads bowed, and Bush wondered if perhaps they were saying a prayer for the fallen man. Then Matthews knelt down, put a hand on Archie's shoulder, and gently turned him over. Through the glass, Bush saw Matthews face change, but they were so far away that he could not make out the expression. He swallowed. Kennedy had probably been in the water for some time. Perhaps some predator had found him.... He watched as Styles knelt down and gently lifted Archie's body. He carried it to the rowboat and carefully placed him on the bottom. The men pulled for Retribution.

Bush waited for them at the side. Matthews came up first. As he climbed over the rail, Bush noticed that Matthews' face was wet. At first he thought it was sea-spray, but then he looked more closely and saw the tears in his eyes as well. He shook his head, and drew Matthews away from the rail.

"A sad day, indeed, Mr. Matthews," he said soberly.

"No, sir, you don't understand, sir!" babbled Matthews.

Bush looked at him. Had the man gone mad?

Matthews laughed, happier than Bush had ever seen him. "It be a miracle, sir!" he shouted. "Mr. Kennedy's alive!"

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Bush was speechless. Was Matthews delusional? Matthews caught the look on his face and laughed again. "It be the truth, sir! Ah, he be in a bad way, but he's breathin'. I don't know how he done it, sir, but he's alive!" Matthews dashed back to the rail, with a dazed Bush following more slowly.

Styles was bringing Archie up, very carefully. He came over the rail, and shifted Archie in his arms. Bush stopped him. Gently, he lifted Archie's head. He grimaced when he saw the extent of the blood and bruising, but that would heal. Pray God, he would heal.

"Get him to the surgeon," he said hoarsely. "Matthews, go with them. I will inform the Captain." Matthews gave him a grateful look and followed Styles below.

Bush smiled, a wide, delighted grin. For once, he could go to his Captain with GOOD news! He nearly ran belowdecks. He knocked on Horatio's door, but got no response, so he opened the door and looked inside. At first, he didn't see anyone. Frowning, he stepped into the room and looked around. He heard a choking sound, and turned around.

Horatio was curled up in one of the chairs in the corner, wrapped into a ball. Terrible, heartrending sobs wracked his body. His face was buried, but Bush could still see the utter despair that plagued his Captain. The lump returned to his throat, and he knelt down in front of Horatio.

"Sir, it's all right - " he began.

"Oh, God, it will NEVER be all right!" Horatio cried out in anguish. "Oh, William, he's gone. He's really gone. If we hadn't found the body, there was always hope, but now, oh, god, now.....Archie..." he choked, a fresh round of tears beginning.

"No, sir, you don't understand, sir," Bush said, unconsciously echoing Matthews' words. "Horatio, Archie is alive."

Horatio raised his head and stared at him vacantly. "What?"

Bush laughed as he stood up. "I swear, I don't know how, sir, but he's alive! I saw him myself."

Horatio pressed himself against the back of the chair, his eyes large and startled. "No. Mr. Bush, that is cruel. I saw him on the beach. He did not move."

Bush sobered. "He is in a bad way, sir, but he's alive. I swear it."

Horatio tried to stand, but his legs were trembling, as were his hands. He stared up at Bush. "He's aboard?"

Bush nodded. "Yes. Matthews and Styles took him to sick berth." He reached out a hand. Horatio grasped it, and allowed Bush to pull him to his feet. Without another word, Horatio turned and made for the surgery, Bush following right behind him.

Striding through the ship, Horatio wiped his face dry with hands that no longer shook. He tried to calm the elation spreading through his body, to no avail. Archie. Alive! It was unbelievable. He reached the sick berth and went inside.

Matthews and Styles were still there, trying to stay out of the way of the doctor, who was bent over Archie's motionless form. Horatio's breath caught in his throat as he glimpsed Archie's face. It was bruised and battered almost beyond recognition, and the bruises extended all over his body. For an instant, Horatio flashed back to a night on Justinian, when he had found Archie hiding in the hold after Simpson had used, beaten, and left him. He had been bruised all over then, too, just as badly as he was now, except for the face. Simpson had never liked to mar Archie's face. Horatio had never thought to see bruises that horrific again, but this was much, much worse.

The doctor caught sight of Horatio. He closed up Archie's shirt, and moved over to talk to Horatio.

"How is he?" Horatio whispered, his eyes never leaving Archie.

The doctor shook his head. "It's too early to tell, but I don't see any broken bones or deep wounds. He does have some broken ribs. He also has a very large bump on his head, which is probably why he's still unconscious. I really won't know until he awakes."

Horatio nodded, desperately wishing that he could stay with Archie, but it was simply impossible. He had a ship to run.

Bush read his mind. "I'll stay with him, sir, if you'd like."

Horatio sighed. "Regretfully, Mr. Bush, I need you up top. We shall be getting underway soon, and we all need to be at our posts."

Matthews and Styles, taking the hint, stood up and moved toward the door. Horatio reached out as Matthews passed, and took his arm.

"Matthews. You do not look well. I believe you may have a touch of fever."

Matthews looked at him, confused. "Sir?"

"Yes, Matthews, I think you should stay here in the sick berth until you are well again. I trust you will get word to me when there is a change?"

Matthews' face lit up. "Aye, aye, sir! Thank ye, sir!"

Horatio started to leave, then leaned in towards Matthews and said conspiratorially, "Perhaps you should cough, or something, to at least make it a LITTLE believable."

Matthews grinned, then quickly coughed. Styles snickered on his way out. "Sure don't sound sick to me," he muttered. Matthews popped him upside the head, then pulled a chair next to Archie's cot and sat down.

Horatio and Bush arrived on deck, and Horatio inhaled deeply. How he loved the sea air! Suddenly, the whole world seemed fresh and clean, and he was anxious to run beneath the wind again.

"Mr. Bush!" he called out.

"Aye, sir?" said Bush, feeling pretty good himself.

"Make sail, sir, and take us home."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Bush, and Retribution prepared to sail.

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty

With a strong wind finally behind her, Retribution fairly flew across the sparkling sea the next morning. With everything functioning normally, Horatio turned the deck over to Bush and went to the sick berth. Quietly, he looked inside. Archie was sleeping, or still unconscious, and Matthews dozed at his side. Hearing Horatio's quiet step, Matthews opened his eyes, and seeing his Captain, stood up.

Horatio moved forward, his eyes never leaving Archie's still form. "Any change, Matthews?"

"No, sir. He woke up for a minute, but no more. Doc says he seems to be restin' pretty comfortable."

"Thank you, Matthews," Horatio said, turning his gaze to the weary sailor. "It's been an eventful few days, and you look exhausted. Go eat something, and rest. I will send word if Mr. Kennedy awakes."

"Aye, sir, thank you, sir." Matthews left, and Horatio settled into his seat. He took a good look at Archie, and cringed. Those bruises marring his face were so ugly and frightening. What must he have endured? He moved his seat closer to the bed, and spoke to his friend, his voice pitched very low.

"I'm sorry, Archie," he said. "I did what you accused everyone else of doing, what I swore I would never do - I left you behind. I could say that it was because I had to think of the ship, and in that storm, I was sure there way no way that anyone could have survived. But I forgot one thing, Archie. I forgot that it was YOU out there. Archie the Indomitable - the most stubborn man I have ever had the pleasure and exasperation to know."

Horatio looked up as someone cleared their throat. Bush stood in the doorway, looking more than a little uncomfortable.

"Mr. Bush. Is something amiss?"

"No, sir," answered Bush quickly. "I left Mr. Jeffers in charge. I just, well, I wanted to know how he was, sir."

There came a sigh from the bed. "Well, "he" will never get any sleep if you two keep babbling so."

Horatio stood up, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Archie! You're awake! Lieutenant Bush, fetch the doctor."

Bush left and returned immediately with the doctor, who looked at the visiting officers. "Is it necessary for a crowd to always be here?" he grumbled. "I have work to do." He looked at Archie. "Mr. Kennedy. You must be in quite a bit of pain. Here. Let me give you some laudanum before I examine you, to dull the pain a bit."

Horatio froze. Laudanum was the last thing Archie needed, but he could not ask the doctor to keep it away from him, for Horatio would not be able to reveal the reason for the request.

Archie met Horatio's eyes. "Thank you, Doctor, but no. I cannot have any."

The doctor looked at him in surprise. "But surely the pain..."

"...is endurable," answered Archie, looking yearningly at the bottle of laudanum that the doctor held in his hand. "My - nightmares - are not."

In that moment, Horatio knew that Archie would be all right. He turned to the doctor. "Apologies, Doctor," he said. "But we will remain here until you are finished. If he is strong enough, I would like to speak to Lieutenant Kennedy for awhile."

"Strong enough?" groused the doctor. "Man must be strong as an ox to have lived through this." He completed a quick exam, then left the room, warning them, under threat of dire consequences, not to overtire his patient.

Horatio and Bush stood looking down at Archie. Suddenly, Horatio had no idea of what to say. Was Archie still angry? Had anything changed? Would he have found his friend, against all odds, only to lose him again? Finally, he shook his head.

"Mr. Kennedy," he said, his voice shaking just a bit. "When I told you to find a way to resolve your problem with Lieutenant Bush, this was not quite what I had in mind. You did not need to go to such drastic measures."

Archie flashed a grin at him. "Worked though, didn't it?" He shrugged, then grimaced in pain. "Well, sir, it just seemed the thing to do at the time. Didn't know how else I could get such a pertinacious person to listen to reason."

Bush wasn't sure whether he'd just been insulted or not. "A what?" he said, bristling.

Archie grinned again. "Cantankerous, Mr. Bush. Contrary. Unbending. Immovable. Intractable...."

"All right, Mr. Kennedy," broke in Horatio, smothering a laugh. "That will be quite enough. I believe Mr. Bush takes your meaning. And lest you forget, those words may also be applied to you as well." He sat down on the bed, facing Archie. There was silence as the two men looked at each other. "Damn you, Archie Kennedy," Horatio finally whispered. "Do not EVER do that to me again." Carefully, he leaned forward and pulled Archie into an embrace, just as he had so long ago on the deck of Renown.

Archie closed his eyes and held Horatio as tightly as his injuries would allow. "I'm sorry, Horatio," he whispered, his voice breaking. "I'm sorry for all the trouble you went to for me, and all the ingratitude I showed you, when I should have been thanking the gods for sending such a good man into my miserable life. I owe you everything - " he looked up at Bush " - both of you. I can never repay you."

Watching them, Bush felt a momentary twinge of jealousy. Though he and Horatio had become fast friends these past few years, he could not ever imagine being as close as these two men obviously were. He fought back that feeling, knowing that he could not possibly resent Archie, not after everything that had happened. Horatio and Archie had a long history together, and Bush was well aware that he did not know the full extent of it. Maybe someday he would know the whole story of what happened in Justinian, for that was where the bond had been forged.

Horatio released Archie and leaned back. "Can you tell us what happened, Archie? After you fell?"

Archie leaned back against the wall. "There's really not much to tell. I remember hitting the water hard, and something else, too. I don't know if it was part of Number Seven's carriage, or something else that came loose from the ship, but it knocked me around pretty hard. That's when my ribs broke, I guess - I'm not really sure. Went under too many times to count." He stopped, and looked at Horatio, his eyes unreadable. "I thought that was it, Horatio. I thought I was a dead man." He shook his head. "I know that somehow, I grabbed onto some wreckage, and just kept my head above water. Most of the time, I was unconscious. I knew Retribution was gone, so I figured it was all over. I don't know how I ended up on that beach, or how you found me. Someone must have been looking out for me."

Horatio laughed. "Yes, someone was, and his name is Matthews!" At Archie's confused look, he continued softly, "He never gave up on you, Archie. He was aloft every spare moment, searching for you. He was the one who eventually found you on the beach." Horatio stopped, and looked down at his clasped hands. "I ordered him to stop, Archie. I told him there was no hope, and he was wasting his time. I'm sorry," he whispered. "If it weren't for Matthews, and for Lieutenant Bush allowing him aloft again, we never would have found you, and you would, indeed, have died there." Horatio's dark eyes gleamed with unshed tears in the faint light of the room. "Can you ever forgive me?"

Archie was silent for a moment, and then he looked at both Horatio and Bush. "It is I who should ask for forgiveness. I have been acting as a petulant child, thinking only of myself and my hurt feelings. I have my life back, and the chance at a new beginning, because you two - and Emily - cared enough to take over my life when I was unable to move beyond my pain. I treated you all abominably, and I apologize. I know it is not much, but it is heartfelt. I owe you all so much."

Horatio leaned forward and grasped Archie's hand. "We did no more that you have done for us, Archie, time and time again. There is no debt to repay."

Gently, Archie squeezed Horatio's hand, then released it and turned to face Bush. An awkward silence filled the room, then both men spoke at once.

"Mr. Bush - "

"Mr. Kennedy - "

They both stopped. Bush motioned Archie to go ahead. Archie looked down, as if focusing his energy into a small spot inside himself, and then looked back up at Bush.

"Mr. Bush - William - what you saw at your home, with Emily and me, was not what you think. Yes, I kissed her, but it was goodbye, William. I told her that I would always love her - and I will - but that I know her heart belongs to you. You make her happy, and that is the only thing that matters. The ONLY thing."

Bush waited for a minute, organizing his thoughts, then spoke honestly. "I misjudged you, Mr. Kennedy, and so it is my turn to apologize. I had forgotten the kind of man that you truly are. It is not a mistake I will ever make again, sir, nor will I soon forget how you never hesitated to risk your life to save mine, even after the horrible thing I accused you of. Falsely accused you of. I realize now the depth of your love for Emily, and I, of all men, can certainly understand it."

Archie was nodding his head. "Thank you, Mr. Bush." He looked up at Bush, and a small grin brushed his lips. "You are indeed a lucky man, sir."

Bush answered very quietly, looking Archie in the eye, "Yes, Archie, I am."

The moment was shattered by the sound of rushing feet. Mr. Witt appeared at the door.

"Beggin' your pardon, sir, but Mr. Jeffers requests and requires your attendance on deck. There's been a sail sighted."

Horatio stood up. "French, Mr. Witt?"

"Don't know yet, sir. She's too far away to see her colors."

Horatio and Bush left the room. Archie watched them go, wishing he could be up there with them, but the pain he was still in was much too great. I hope it's not the French, he thought wearily. I really have no desire to get banged around any more. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Jeffers met Horatio and Bush as they arrived topside. "Mr. Jeffers," said Horatio as he strode to the rail. "Do we have an identification yet?"

"No, sir," said Jeffers. "She's still too far off. I sent some new lookouts up, sir."

Horatio glanced up, and raised an eyebrow. "You sent Styles aloft, Mr. Jeffers?"

Jeffers flushed. "He wanted to, sir. Fresh pair of eyes - seemed like a good thing."

Horatio grinned and was about to comment, when Styles' shout rang out.

"Sir! The ship! It's the bloody Indy!"

 

 

 

Chapter Thirty-One

Horatio's grin widened. The Indefatigable! With Commodore Pellew aboard, of course. He heard Bush move off, giving commands, but his eyes never left the Indy as she sailed toward them. How beautiful she was. As she drew closer, he could see Pellew standing on the quarterdeck, and it warmed his heart. Inseparable, were those two. Pellew and the Indy. Was there a better team in all the fleet?

"They're signaling us, sir," said Jeffers, standing behind him.

"What are they saying, Mr. Jeffers?"

"They're saying," Jeffers swallowed nervously, "the Commodore wishes to come aboard, sir."

"Very well, Mr. Jeffers. Signal, and we will await his arrival."

In short order, the Commodore arrived and was piped aboard. Horatio met him at the rail.

"Good morning, sir. A pleasure to see you."

Pellew looked at Horatio, his eyes tired and sad. "I only wish it could be under better circumstances, Mr. Hornblower."

Horatio looked at him in confusion, then dawning realization. He opened his mouth to speak, but the Commodore continued.

"I received your letter, sir. May we go below and speak of it?"

Horatio shot Bush a look. Bush looked back at him, horrified. He knew what had been in Horatio's letter, and if the Commodore had read his, that meant Emily had received her husband's letter, also. Horatio addressed the Commodore.

"Of course, sir, but I believe there is something I need to show you, first. If you will follow me, sir?"

Pellew nodded and followed Horatio down below and to the surgery door. Horatio stopped outside it, his hand on the door handle, and looked back at Pellew. "I thought it better to show you, sir, rather than just tell you. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised, sir."

Horatio opened the door and led the Commodore inside. Archie still lay sleeping, his bruises showing starkly against his pale face. Horatio looked back at Pellew.

Shock ringed Pellew's eyes and numbed his mind as he stared at the figure on the bed before him. Could this be? "Dear Lord," he whispered. "How many lives does the man have?"

Horatio laughed softly. "Somehow, sir, I still don't think he's used them all up. We'll have to keep a closer eye on him in the future." He looked at the thunderstruck Pellew, and his heart was touched with compassion. He knew exactly how the man was feeling. "Sir, I'll just be on deck when you're done here. Take all the time you need."

Pellew nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Hornblower," he whispered. "We will speak later." Horatio nodded and withdrew. At the sound of the door closing behind him, Pellew moved forward to stand at Archie's bedside. He had no idea how long he stood there, gazing at the battered body before him, his thoughts and emotions churning inside him. To go from the depths of despair, to the heights of joy - it was almost too much. He sat down in the chair beside the bed, bowing his head, and reached out a hand, gently touching the bruised arm that lay outside the blanket covering Archie's body.

At the touch, Archie awoke, and slowly opened his eyes. His gaze focused on the man beside his bed, and he felt a warmth fill him as he realized who it was. "Sir," he whispered. "Is that you, Commodore?"

Pellew raised his head and looked at Archie, then rose to his feet. "I do believe, Mr. Kennedy, that it is I who should be asking YOU that question. Mr. Hornblower had informed me of your death, and I stopped to pay him my respects. And yet, here you are. Looking, I might add, as if you had been run over by a fleet of dung carts."

Slowly, Archie drew himself to a sitting position. He looked at Pellew, a twinkle lighting his azure eyes. "Horatio told you I was dead, did he? Hmm. Perhaps he was just returning the favor? Did you not tell him the very same tale once upon a time?"

Pellew glared at him, and then laughed. He could not stay mad at Archie, not now. "That was not very kind of him, Mr. Kennedy. I shall have to have a word with our Mr. Hornblower."

Archie grinned, but his smile faded, and he looked down. His fingers picked at some lint on the blanket that covered him, and he was silent for some time. Pellew watched him, seeing that the man was obviously struggling with something. Finally, Archie looked up.

"I have a great many things to tell you, sir," he began.

Pellew shook his head. "We will speak of your adventures later, sir. Perhaps you should rest now."

"No." The strength in Archie's voice gave Pellew pause. "This is not about my going overboard, or my rescue. Please, sir, will you sit and listen to what I have to say? I need to do this now, before I lose my nerve."

Pellew remained standing. "Archie," he said quietly. "I never fear you losing your nerve. Your courage is unequalled, sir, as is your spirit." He drew the chair over next to the bed and sat down. "I will listen, Mr. Kennedy."

Archie didn't meet Pellew's eyes as he began. "First, sir, though it is not enough, I owe you an apology. My behavior over the last several months has been inexcusable, and I am profoundly grateful that you overlooked my poor conduct, at least enough to keep me in the service. I fear that when I tell you the true reason, you will have my commission revoked, and I will not blame you." He sighed, but still didn't look at Pellew. "There are two reasons you already know about, sir - my losing the love of my life, and my excessive consumption of spirits, but there is a third reason, sir." Finally, Archie raised his eyes to meet Pellew's. "While I was in France, I developed a dependence on laudanum. After I was reinstated, I continued to use it, and in fact increased my use of it. I could not stop, sir, even if I wanted to, which I did not. I was weak, sir. Not exactly a quality you look for in an officer." He dropped his eyes again.

Pellew studied him for a moment. Gods, those bruises were appalling. "Mr. Kennedy," he said sternly. "Have you used any laudanum since you came aboard Retribution?"

Archie shook his head, then winced at the pain that flared up. "No, sir."

"Do you intend to use any when you return to shore?"

"No, sir."

"Then I see no problem here." As Archie stared up at him, Pellew sighed. "Archie, you have had to fight more battles, and more demons, than any one man should ever have to endure in an entire lifetime. I will not give up on you, simply because you had a few moments of weakness. They are in the past. Believe it or not, Archie, we all have those moments of weakness - ALL of us. The measure of a man is taken not by how he falls, but by the manner in which he picks himself back up and continues his journey. Your journey is far from over, Mr. Kennedy. I think you will accomplish a great many things, and I see a very promising future ahead of you. All you have to do is take it."

Archie looked at Pellew, feeling conflicted. "I want to believe that, sir. It just never seems to work out that way. I do not wish to disappoint you again, Commodore, but it seems to be what I do best."

Pellew shook his head. "Archie, until you can rid yourself of all your self-doubt, it will continue to be a struggle for you. You must stop believing that you do not deserve what you have earned, and learn to believe in yourself as I do. As many do."

Archie laughed, despite the pain it caused in his ribcage. "Funny, but Horatio said exactly the same thing to me, back at The Sea Serpent."

"Well," intoned Pellew, mock-seriously. "I always knew the boy was bright." He sobered, and looked searchingly at Archie. "Things are - better - between you?"

Archie nodded. "I believe we have all resolved our differences. Quite a stroke of genius, sir, sticking us all on the same ship, where we would either kill each other, or learn to work our problems out."

"I am just glad, Mr. Kennedy, that it was the latter. Replacing three outstanding officers would be most difficult, indeed." He took a close look at Archie. "You look rather tired, Lieutenant. Perhaps I should leave you to your rest."

Archie nodded, and Pellew turned to leave. He stopped at the door and turned back to look at Archie once more, allowing, for just a moment, his emotions to show in his dark eyes.

Archie caught the look, and nodded. "Thank you, sir," he said quietly. "For everything."

Pellew dipped his head, and left. Horatio met him abovedeck, Lieutenant Bush at his side.

"Everything all right, sir?"

Pellew took a deep breath, and looked over at the Indy. "Yes, Mr. Hornblower, it is now. That was quite a surprise you hit me with, sir."

Horatio smiled. "I thought you would be pleased to see him, sir."

Pellew smiled also, thinking of the man he'd left below, so very different from the tormented Midshipman he'd known so long ago. "Yes. He is an amazing man, Mr. Hornblower."

"Aye," said Horatio softly. "He is that."

Pellew turned back to him. "And now, sir, I would like an explanation of why you filed a false report."

Taken aback, Horatio could only say, "False report, sir?"

"Yes, Mr. Hornblower," said Pellew impatiently. "Did you not report Lieutenant Kennedy as deceased? Yet there he lies in your sick berth, big as life! Explain, sir!"

Horatio could only gape. "Sir?"

"Come, come, man, I'm waiting!" ordered Pellew.

Horatio floundered for an explanation. "Sir, I only, he - " he stopped, staring at the Commodore in disbelief and worry. He was saved by Lieutenant Bush, who leaned in next to him.

"I believe the Commodore is jesting, sir."

Horatio felt like screaming. Why did Pellew tease him so? It drove him mad! He glared at Bush, since he could not very well glare at the Commodore.

"Thank you, Mr. Bush," he said, gritting his teeth. "Your insight is always welcome."

Bush turned away with a smile, and sauntered aft, whistling. Horatio watched him go, vowing that from this day on, the cook would serve only turnips for dinner.

Horatio turned back, to find the Commodore regarding him with amusement. "I would like to know Mr. Kennedy's story, Mr. Hornblower. It must be a fascinating tale. Shall we retire belowdecks, and you may fill me in?"

 

 

 

Epilogue

Some time later, Pellew prepared to return to Indefatigable. He had enjoyed a simple meal with Commander Hornblower, and he had been well aware, throughout the entire meal, of the elation that Horatio had been hiding just beneath the seemingly calm and professional demeanor. He could only imagine the pain that the man had been feeling such a brief time before, but there had been no indication of it in any of his conversation. He had been the model naval officer, all business and no emotion. Briefly, Pellew wondered just how long that particular façade would last. He had a feeling that Kennedy would get back under this man's skin in short order, teasing and tormenting him as he had always been wont to do, superior officer or not. They had a very unique relationship within the Navy. Very few men developed a friendship such as they had, for the spectre of death was always around, which was not exactly encouraging to forming long-lasting relationships. He realized he would definitely miss having Lieutenant Kennedy aboard Indefatigable, but his place, without any doubt, was at Hornblower's side. Pellew knew that he would do whatever was within his power to keep it that way. And so now, he stood ready to depart, leaving them both behind. As he stood at the railing, a slight commotion caused him to turn around. He stared in wonder at the sight before him.

Coming up the stairs, pain evident in every step, was Archie Kennedy. He was assisted by Matthews, who appeared to be handling the lieutenant as though he were made of porcelain. The doctor, who was obviously not at all happy that his patient was out of bed and moving around, as evidenced by his grumbling and fussing, followed them.

Catching sight of the Commodore, Matthews let go of Archie's arm and stood back a respectful distance. Pellew stepped forward.

"Matthews."

"Aye, sir?" said the veteran sailor uneasily.

"I believe we all owe you a debt of gratitude."

"Sir?" said Matthews, nonplussed.

"Commander Hornblower has informed me of your dedication in locating Lieutenant Kennedy. Had you not been so persistent and diligent, Mr. Kennedy would have been truly lost, and that would indeed have been a sad day for us all."

"Aye, sir," said Matthews, stealing a glance at Archie. Archie gave him a fond smile and a nod, which emboldened Matthews. He faced Pellew.

"He be a good man, sir, and he always treats the men with respect. He listens to us, sir, like we's important, and what we think matters. I jus' wanted 'im to know, sir, that he mattered to us, too."

Archie flushed as Pellew glanced at him. Pellew looked back at Matthews. "Thank you, Matthews. That is as fine a testimonial for an officer as I have ever heard."

"Aye, sir, thankee, sir," said Matthews, knuckling his forehead and moving back to his spot behind Archie.

Pellew looked at Archie, who looked back levelly. Watching them, Horatio realized a wealth of words was being spoken in that look, and he wondered what had been said in the sick berth. Well, perhaps Archie would tell him, someday.

Pellew turned to Horatio. "Safe voyage home, Mr. Hornblower." He glanced back at Archie. "Mr. Kennedy."

"Aye, sir."

"Please try not to fall overboard. I would hate for Mr. Hornblower to have to search half the Atlantic because you decide to go missing again."

Horatio grinned, and Archie looked flustered. "Aye, aye, sir, I will do my best, sir."

Pellew paused, and said quietly, "You always do, Mr. Kennedy." With that, he returned to Indefatigable, the officers of Retribution watching. As she sailed away, Horatio looked at Archie, who was gazing after her with a wistful look of longing.

"She's a beautiful sight, isn't she, Archie."

Archie turned back to him, the melancholy look slipping from his face. "Yes, she is, Horatio, but Retribution is a fine ship, too. I am proud to serve aboard her."

Lieutenant Bush joined them at the rail. "All's ready, sir. We sail for home at your command." Horatio nodded, and Retribution set sail again for home.

Archie, leaning against the rail, looked at Horatio and Bush, and mused aloud, "I wonder if the Commodore will think you need a 2nd Lieutenant anymore, now that his plan has succeeded. I wonder if we will serve together again?" He turned around, and gazed out at the sea. As if speaking to himself, he said,

"When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurly-burly's done,
When the battle's lost and won."

 

All three men were silent for a moment, contemplating. "Do not worry, Archie," said Horatio at last, softly. "The Commodore will do what is best."

They faced the sea, while all around them, men shouted, and did their assigned duties as the ship sprang to life. Hornblower, Kennedy, and Bush remained standing at the rail, with the two Lieutenants flanking their Captain. Archie closed his eyes, feeling the sun and salt air on his face, and the waves beneath the deck at his feet, and listened to the snap of the sails and the wind singing in the riggings. There was no better feeling in the world.

Horatio watched him, his heart nearly bursting with joy. He glanced over at Bush, who returned his smile. He knew that things would still be awkward between Archie and William for awhile, but both men appeared willing to work at re-establishing their friendship. He could not ask for more. Gently, being all too aware of the bruises Archie carried, he placed his hand on Archie's shoulder. Naval etiquette be damned, he thought. I need to be sure he's really here.

Archie glanced at him, then back out at the sea. For the first time he could ever remember, he felt at peace, and he reveled in the feeling. Somewhere, he knew, Abby was smiling.

 

~FIN~