Steps From Kingston
by Seasprite

Matthews and Styles and some of the crew had taken over Kingston's open
square, stretching out the sails for much-needed repairs. They probably
should have set up shop closer to the ship, but Matthews and Styles had
been keeping vigil outside the jail hospital since they'd been part of
the detail removing Archie's body earlier that morning.

Matthews saw Horatio emerge. He automatically started for him then
stopped short. Horatio was clutching a packet of papers in one hand and
his hat in the other, odd in the harsh, tropical afternoon light. But it
was more than glare that caused the frown on the younger man's face.
Horatio's near catatonia as his friend was carried out had worried
Matthews. And that was hours
ago. He gave a deep sigh.

//Ah, laddie...//

As if hearing the unspoken words, Horatio's eyes flickered in Matthews'
direction but he didn't stop. Indeed, Matthews didn't think he saw him
at all. Horatio seemed to be headed somewhere, even if his pace was
slow, preoccupied. Matthews watched as he headed down the road toward
the cliffs that lined the coastline south of town. It was strange to see
Horatio headed anywhere alone. Involuntarily, Matthews looked around to
make sure Archie wasn't dallying somewhere behind after all, playing
some practical joke on his more serious and sometimes gullible friend.
When Matthews turned back again, Horatio was gone.

Bush came trudging up from a different street, having taken advantage of
the glorious day that was offering itself. He still walked gingerly, not
wishing to jar fresh stitches. He was hoping to sneak back into the
hospital without the good Dr. Clive seeing him. He saw Matthews and
inclined his head in acknowledgement when he realized Matthews didn't
see him, intent on something else. Bush followed Matthews' gaze in time
to see Horatio slowly disappear around a curve in the road.

* * *

The sun's warmth was weakening by the time Horatio clambered to his and
Archie's favorite perch. He hadn't taken much time to go exploring the
town last time they'd put in for supplies, but Archie, never one to be
at loose ends and with precious little available in the way of cultural
distractions, had found this place and introduced it to Horatio. Horatio
knew Archie was secretly trying to help rid him of his fear of heights,
so he went along at first to humor his overly enthusiastic friend, then
came to enjoy the wild, solitary beauty of the place.

The natural stone chairs chiseled by eons of sand and salt faced out to
sea, their exposure a perfect visual vantage point. Horatio could feel
the hard, cold stone under his buttocks, the intractable surface somehow
a deserved discomfort. He relished it, although he didn't want to
analyze too closely why or he knew he would be undone. If he could hang
onto the guilt long enough, maybe the grief could be kept at bay. As if
in self-defense, he pulled his feet up and hooked the heels of his boots
on the stony edge, his knees practically touching his chin.

Suddenly, the breeze freshened and carried its indefinable scent into
Horatio's brain. There is no perfume more heady than air that's crossed
a thousand virgin miles of ocean. With a seaman's instinct, Horatio
lifted his head into the wind, his perfectly sculptured features coming
into sharp relief against the waning sunlight, then closed his eyes
against the fine sting of salt mist carried up the cliffs from the surf
far below.

Bush approached quietly. He saw Horatio's eyes close and, in a moment
that stabbed at his sympathetic heart, saw one small tear slip from
under ridiculously long lashes.

//Even his tears carry themselves with dignity.//

Though he and Mr. Kennedy hadn't exactly warmed to one another at first,
it hadn't taken long for him to understand that the fiery young
lieutenant's impetuosity hid a loyal and steadfast soul.
Archie's untimely death reminded Bush of a comet ablaze across the
heavens before being consumed by its own momentum. He could only guess
at Horatio's sense of loss.

Bush cleared his throat. Instead of acknowledging his presence,
Horatio's head lowered to his knees, curling into a ball, the thick
fistful of papers he still carried, forgotten. Like Horatio, Bush was a
man of deep emotion held tightly in check. One didn't become a senior
officer with less control. Even if Bush didn't know Horatio that well,
he was more than familiar with the younger man's anguish. You didn't get
to be a senior officer without your own measure of that, too.

Bush came up behind Horatio and laid a kindly hand on his shoulder.
Through the heavy blue wool, he couldn't believe the human rock under
his hand could become even more rigid, the younger man's body frozen in
a rigor of sorrow.

In the blackness that was his world at that moment, Horatio somehow knew
it was Bush. As ebullient a soul as Matthews was and as joyful as he had
been at Horatio's safe return from blowing up the fort, Matthews would
not have presumed this familiarity. Horatio remembered Bush's gentle
restraint when he'd stood up from cover at the sight of Randall and the
massacred men. And again when he'd stepped forward to take the heat from
Buckland, it was Bush's touch
on his arm and his quiet "No, no, best it be from me" that stopped him
in his tracks. And now, he knew it was Bush's hand on his shoulder,
solid, dependable. Without judgement.

It was with some relief that Bush felt the rigidity of the shoulder
under his hand melt into tears. Not breaking the contact, he stepped
around to sit beside Horatio, letting his hand slide up to lay warmly on
the back of Horatio's exposed neck. Bush spied the sheaf of papers in
Horatio's hand, flapping in the damp breeze. With his free hand, he
gently pried them away and tucked them inside his own jacket for
safekeeping, but not before catching a glimpse of the word "Commander"
and Horatio's name. But he didn't know a ship named "Retribution."

Bush was glad for the distraught man beside him that he would be
rewarded with a ship of his own, if made all the more poignant by
Kennedy's sacrifice. Bush, as a second lieutenant, hadn't yet received
his orders, but he was also a little saddened that it appeared he
wouldn't be serving with Horatio -- if, he reminded himself, he was also
given his own ship. Time enough to
speculate on that. For now, he was content to simply be there for this
young Commander who had displayed such courage under fire and such
dignity under duress. He wasn't certain he would have behaved so well or
so honorably and, indeed, witnessing young Kennedy's last hours of
suffering had infuriated him to the point of wishing to do a violence
against Dr. Clive...

* * *

At Archie's first breath of consciousness, Bush immediately raised his
head. But he expected too much of abdominal muscles that had been sliced
by that Spanish bastard's sword, and he flopped back down, breathless.
Archie was fairly panting now, the red stain on his bandages slowly
spreading.

"Dr. Clive!" Bush was surprised at the barely audible croak that came
out of his mouth. "Dr. Clive!" A little better, but still no response.
In fact, there was no sound at all in the hospital except for Archie's
tortured breathing. Collecting himself for another attempt, Bush rolled
to the right and let himself half roll, half fall off the bed enough to
lever himself upright. Waiting a moment for the dizziness to pass, he
snagged his own pillow, then shifted over to the edge of the other man's
bed. He slipped an arm beneath Archie's shoulders and lifted him enough
to tuck the second pillow underneath.

"Easy now, Mr. Kennedy." He laid Archie back as gently as he could, but
the strain on his own stitches was agonizing, making him gasp at the
effort.

"Mr. Bush... you will do yourself... an injury"

Bush snorted at the less-than-astute observation. He gave Archie a grin,
his eyes crinkling in compassion. He laid the back of his fingers
against a flushed cheek, then touched them to Archie's forehead. The man
was burning up, but he did seem to be breathing a little easier
bolstered now by the additional pillow. Bush reached for a metal cup of
water on the bedside table.

"Here. Try to drink a little. It will help the fever." He eased a hand
under Archie's head to help him drink. He'd never seen such gratitude in
another's eyes as he did then, which surprised and chagrined him. It
would never have occurred to Bush *not* to offer what solace he could to
a fellow seaman and officer. But he'd also heard the stories of Archie's
long imprisonment and the brutal treatment he'd endured at the hands of
Simpson. Hazards of war were one thing, but to heap them on the head of
one so young was unconscionable. He wouldn't let Archie suffer any more
than he could help.

Archie's gaze turned toward the high windows. It was daylight, but he
couldn't parse whether it was morning or afternoon.

"What time is it?"

"Second dog watch."

"Any news of Horatio?"

"Nothing yet."

Archie suddenly closed his eyes and held his breath. Bush clasped the
hand closest to him and with his other began a gentle, comforting
massage of Archie's upper arm, hoping to give him something else to feel
and think about besides what was obviously excruciating pain. When the
spasm passed, Archie opened eyes that were shiny with more than fever.

"Thank you, *Dr.* Bush"

Bush gave what he hoped was a reassuring grin. "Will you take a little
more water?" Archie nodded.

As Bush helped him take another drink, Dr. Clive strolled in, startled
to see Bush up much less out of bed. Quickly doffing his hat, he came
over to assist.

"Come now, Mr. Bush, this will not do. No, sir. You should not be moving
and risk undoing my expert stitchery."

"Mr. Kennedy needs something for the pain. Where the devil have you
been?"

"Never mind where I have been, and never mind playing doctor. I will
decide when my patients need medication and when they do not."

As Dr. Clive lent a steadying hand to Bush and got him settled back in
his own bed, he had to admit Kennedy's face was gray with pain and
exhaustion.

The last thing Bush saw as he himself drifted off to sleep was Dr. Clive
holding a small brown bottle of laudanum to Archie's lips.

* * *

The sun had long since set when Horatio heaved a deep sigh and raised
his head. Bush gave Horatio's neck a friendly squeeze and moved his hand
to rest on the other's shoulder, reluctant to break contact as much to
reassure himself as Horatio.

"I am sorry about Mr. Kennedy. I know you were close."

"Yes." Horatio rubbed cold, wet hands across his face, then abruptly
stopped as if trying to remember something important.

"Looking for these?" Bush pulled out the commission papers.

"Thank you." Horatio gazed at him steadily, almost, it seemed to Bush,
apologetically. "I do not know what to say."

Bush shrugged dismissively. "You would have done the same for me."

Realizing Bush misunderstood and then further realizing he didn't know
about Horatio's promotion, Horatio bowed his head again. The last thing
he wanted to do was hurt this man's feelings or, God forbid, lose his
respect.

"And congratulations, Mr. Hornblower."

//Then he *did* know.// "Thank you, Mr. Bush. This is most awkward, and
I still don't know what to say, being given a command in this manner.
Have you received your orders?"

"No. But the Renown is the only ship in port. Except for the prizes."

//Oh, God, he *does not* know.// "You were not aware the Gaditano's been
renamed?"

There was a long pause before Bush realized.

"Retribution."

It was a statement, flat and almost disbelieving. The implications were
staggering to him, not the least of them his own last possibility of a
field command, and suddenly he was conscious of his
hand still on Horatio's Commander Hornblower's shoulder. He let it drop
into his own lap.

"Then congratulations, *sir*."

Horatio cringed. "Please, Mr. Bush. After what you have just witnessed,
this is hardly the time to stand on formalities. Besides, I am not so
certain there has not been a grave mistake made."

//A grave mistake.// The words rang hollow in Bush's ears, but not
through any artifice of Horatio's, he knew. Fifteen years at sea and
still he was passed over for command by a third lieutenant, and with no
indication that he had even made the grade to first. Would it be on the
Retribution? Could he serve under this slip of a man/boy whom he
confessed he admired, if not also being a little exasperated by the
younger man's cunning and courage? In his true sailor's heart, he meant
no disloyalty, especially toward Horatio, but he had to admit he was
also getting tired of the slow progress his career was seemingly making.
Then again, he also knew it would be easy serving under a commander of
such fine qualities as the man sitting next to him. God knew, he'd
served under far worse. The thought made him shudder, but the thought
was only partly to blame. Suddenly, he was freezing cold and didn't feel
well.

"Mr. Bush?" Was someone calling his name? "Mr. Bush!"

Abruptly the world tilted and he felt himself falling. Falling He
pictured himself soaring in the air above the surf like some magnificent
frigate bird, the cliff face passing in slow motion beside him. He could
see bright green and orange lichens, the white paint of bird droppings,
the surf mist getting heavier...

Then warm hands were on his face. Was someone falling with him? He was
almost down

A sharp slap broke his fall, and he opened his eyes to see Horatio
peering at him anxiously. //If I did not fall, why am I lying on the
ground?//

"How unforgivably stupid of me! In my selfishness, I forgot you too had
been gravely wounded. Oh, God, you're bleeding!"

Bush watched in a daze as Horatio took off his own uniform jacket and
tucked it tightly under Bush's shoulders. Bush could feel the warmth
spreading, but when it trickled down his sides, he knew it wasn't warmth
from the jacket he was feeling.

Horatio then shucked his vest and stuffed it under Bush's head,
cushioning him against the small stones that were starting to bore into
his skull. "Lie very still. I am going to go get Matthews and
Styles. Promise you will not do something foolish and heroic like trying
to walk back on your own!"

Bush could only manage a weak nod of acquiescence.

"Right." Horatio dashed off, his running footsteps fading until all Bush
could hear as he drifted off again were the raucous cries of distant
gulls.

* * *

Even from a distance, the Gaditano, now Retribution, looked different.
It wasn't the one new topsail that was whiter and more opaque than the
others. It wasn't even the gleam of the brightwork that a whole bevy of
midshipmen were busily polishing. She was sitting higher in the water,
perhaps through a subsumed pride in her new, young, freshly minted
commander?

Bush shook off the ridiculous notion. She was riding high on the
waterline because she wasn't fully fitted yet, something Matthews and
Styles were loudly but good-naturedly and efficiently trying to
accomplish.

Bush slowed his pace, eyeing the ship that by all rights should have
been his in the natural succession of things. At the same time he wasn't
jealous of Horatio. Disappointed a little, perhaps. But being a man
brutally honest with himself, he had to acknowledge that, had he been a
more ambitious type, he would've already made commander. The fact that
he hadn't, coupled with his delight at knowing he would be serving with
Horatio again, had settled the issue for him. Perhaps he didn't aspire
to command. Horatio deserved the commission for his brilliant
performance in going to war against both the Spanish and ultimately his
own unfit captain. And there was no doubt the lad was quick to assess
battle situations and even quicker to hatch some mad plan. Firing an
empty cannon, for God's sake! But it had worked and with capital
results.

As Bush neared the ship, he saw Horatio standing on the quarterdeck,
speaking to one of the marines, who wheeled smartly, off on some errand.
Horatio looked up to assess the work being done in the high rigging,
then down to the stern. Then, beyond the stern, he saw Bush approaching
on the pier.

Bush couldn't remember having known in his life a more expressive face
than that of his new commander's. When Horatio saw him, even at that
distance Bush could see the shadows of sadness still lurking behind the
eyes, then a slow curl of a smile starting to form, and last and most
pleasantly shocking of all, Horatio threw him a welcoming salute that
was observed by all aboard.

As Bush strode up the gangplank to officially take his post as First
Lieutenant of the Retribution, he did so with an anticipation he hadn't
felt since his first day at sea.

It was going to be a most interesting adventure.

 

Steps From Kingston
by Seasprite

Matthews and Styles and some of the crew had taken over Kingston's open square, stretching out the sails for much-needed repairs. They probably should have set up shop closer to the ship, but Matthews and Styles had been keeping vigil outside the jail hospital since they'd been part of the detail removing Archie's body earlier that morning.

Matthews saw Horatio emerge. He automatically started for him then stopped short. Horatio was clutching a packet of papers in one hand and his hat in the other, odd in the harsh, tropical afternoon light. But it was more than glare that caused the frown on the younger man's face. Horatio's near catatonia as his friend was carried out had worried Matthews. And that was hours
ago. He gave a deep sigh.

//Ah, laddie...//

As if hearing the unspoken words, Horatio's eyes flickered in Matthews' direction but he didn't stop. Indeed, Matthews didn't think he saw him at all. Horatio seemed to be headed somewhere, even if his pace was slow, preoccupied. Matthews watched as he headed down the road toward the cliffs that lined the coastline south of town. It was strange to see Horatio headed anywhere alone. Involuntarily, Matthews looked around to make sure Archie wasn't dallying somewhere behind after all, playing some practical joke on his more serious and sometimes gullible friend. When Matthews turned back again, Horatio was gone.

Bush came trudging up from a different street, having taken advantage of the glorious day that was offering itself. He still walked gingerly, not wishing to jar fresh stitches. He was hoping to sneak back into the hospital without the good Dr. Clive seeing him. He saw Matthews and inclined his head in acknowledgement when he realized Matthews didn't see him, intent on something else. Bush followed Matthews' gaze in time to see Horatio slowly disappear around a curve in the road.

* * *

The sun's warmth was weakening by the time Horatio clambered to his and Archie's favorite perch. He hadn't taken much time to go exploring the town last time they'd put in for supplies, but Archie, never one to be at loose ends and with precious little available in the way of cultural distractions, had found this place and introduced it to Horatio. Horatio knew Archie was secretly trying to help rid him of his fear of heights, so he went along at first to humor his overly enthusiastic friend, then came to enjoy the wild, solitary beauty of the place.

The natural stone chairs chiseled by eons of sand and salt faced out to sea, their exposure a perfect visual vantage point. Horatio could feel the hard, cold stone under his buttocks, the intractable surface somehow a deserved discomfort. He relished it, although he didn't want to analyze too closely why or he knew he would be undone. If he could hang onto the guilt long enough, maybe the grief could be kept at bay. As if in self-defense, he pulled his feet up and hooked the heels of his boots on the stony edge, his knees practically touching his chin.

Suddenly, the breeze freshened and carried its indefinable scent into Horatio's brain. There is no perfume more heady than air that's crossed a thousand virgin miles of ocean. With a seaman's instinct, Horatio lifted his head into the wind, his perfectly sculptured features coming into sharp relief against the waning sunlight, then closed his eyes against the fine sting of salt mist carried up the cliffs from the surf far below.

Bush approached quietly. He saw Horatio's eyes close and, in a moment that stabbed at his sympathetic heart, saw one small tear slip from under ridiculously long lashes.

//Even his tears carry themselves with dignity.//

Though he and Mr. Kennedy hadn't exactly warmed to one another at first, it hadn't taken long for him to understand that the fiery young lieutenant's impetuosity hid a loyal and steadfast soul.
Archie's untimely death reminded Bush of a comet ablaze across the heavens before being consumed by its own momentum. He could only guess at Horatio's sense of loss.

Bush cleared his throat. Instead of acknowledging his presence, Horatio's head lowered to his knees, curling into a ball, the thick fistful of papers he still carried, forgotten. Like Horatio, Bush was a man of deep emotion held tightly in check. One didn't become a senior officer with less control. Even if Bush didn't know Horatio that well, he was more than familiar with the younger man's anguish. You didn't get to be a senior officer without your own measure of that, too.

Bush came up behind Horatio and laid a kindly hand on his shoulder. Through the heavy blue wool, he couldn't believe the human rock under his hand could become even more rigid, the younger man's body frozen in a rigor of sorrow.

In the blackness that was his world at that moment, Horatio somehow knew it was Bush. As ebullient a soul as Matthews was and as joyful as he had been at Horatio's safe return from blowing up the fort, Matthews would not have presumed this familiarity. Horatio remembered Bush's gentle restraint when he'd stood up from cover at the sight of Randall and the massacred men. And again when he'd stepped forward to take the heat from Buckland, it was Bush's touch
on his arm and his quiet "No, no, best it be from me" that stopped him in his tracks. And now, he knew it was Bush's hand on his shoulder, solid, dependable. Without judgement.

It was with some relief that Bush felt the rigidity of the shoulder under his hand melt into tears. Not breaking the contact, he stepped around to sit beside Horatio, letting his hand slide up to lay warmly on the back of Horatio's exposed neck. Bush spied the sheaf of papers in Horatio's hand, flapping in the damp breeze. With his free hand, he gently pried them away and tucked them inside his own jacket for safekeeping, but not before catching a glimpse of the word "Commander" and Horatio's name. But he didn't know a ship named "Retribution."

Bush was glad for the distraught man beside him that he would be rewarded with a ship of his own, if made all the more poignant by Kennedy's sacrifice. Bush, as a second lieutenant, hadn't yet received his orders, but he was also a little saddened that it appeared he wouldn't be serving with Horatio -- if, he reminded himself, he was also given his own ship. Time enough to
speculate on that. For now, he was content to simply be there for this young Commander who had displayed such courage under fire and such dignity under duress. He wasn't certain he would have behaved so well or so honorably and, indeed, witnessing young Kennedy's last hours of suffering had infuriated him to the point of wishing to do a violence against Dr. Clive...

* * *

At Archie's first breath of consciousness, Bush immediately raised his head. But he expected too much of abdominal muscles that had been sliced by that Spanish bastard's sword, and he flopped back down, breathless. Archie was fairly panting now, the red stain on his bandages slowly spreading.

"Dr. Clive!" Bush was surprised at the barely audible croak that came out of his mouth. "Dr. Clive!" A little better, but still no response. In fact, there was no sound at all in the hospital except for Archie's tortured breathing. Collecting himself for another attempt, Bush rolled to the right and let himself half roll, half fall off the bed enough to lever himself upright. Waiting a moment for the dizziness to pass, he snagged his own pillow, then shifted over to the edge of the other man's bed. He slipped an arm beneath Archie's shoulders and lifted him enough to tuck the second pillow underneath.

"Easy now, Mr. Kennedy." He laid Archie back as gently as he could, but the strain on his own stitches was agonizing, making him gasp at the effort.

"Mr. Bush... you will do yourself... an injury"

Bush snorted at the less-than-astute observation. He gave Archie a grin, his eyes crinkling in compassion. He laid the back of his fingers against a flushed cheek, then touched them to Archie's forehead. The man was burning up, but he did seem to be breathing a little easier bolstered now by the additional pillow. Bush reached for a metal cup of water on the bedside table.

"Here. Try to drink a little. It will help the fever." He eased a hand under Archie's head to help him drink. He'd never seen such gratitude in another's eyes as he did then, which surprised and chagrined him. It would never have occurred to Bush *not* to offer what solace he could to a fellow seaman and officer. But he'd also heard the stories of Archie's long imprisonment and the brutal treatment he'd endured at the hands of Simpson. Hazards of war were one thing, but to heap them on the head of one so young was unconscionable. He wouldn't let Archie suffer any more than he could help.

Archie's gaze turned toward the high windows. It was daylight, but he couldn't parse whether it was morning or afternoon.

"What time is it?"

"Second dog watch."

"Any news of Horatio?"

"Nothing yet."

Archie suddenly closed his eyes and held his breath. Bush clasped the hand closest to him and with his other began a gentle, comforting massage of Archie's upper arm, hoping to give him something else to feel and think about besides what was obviously excruciating pain. When the spasm passed, Archie opened eyes that were shiny with more than fever.

"Thank you, *Dr.* Bush"

Bush gave what he hoped was a reassuring grin. "Will you take a little more water?" Archie nodded.

As Bush helped him take another drink, Dr. Clive strolled in, startled to see Bush up much less out of bed. Quickly doffing his hat, he came over to assist.

"Come now, Mr. Bush, this will not do. No, sir. You should not be moving and risk undoing my expert stitchery."

"Mr. Kennedy needs something for the pain. Where the devil have you been?"

"Never mind where I have been, and never mind playing doctor. I will decide when my patients need medication and when they do not."

As Dr. Clive lent a steadying hand to Bush and got him settled back in his own bed, he had to admit Kennedy's face was gray with pain and exhaustion.

The last thing Bush saw as he himself drifted off to sleep was Dr. Clive holding a small brown bottle of laudanum to Archie's lips.

* * *

The sun had long since set when Horatio heaved a deep sigh and raised his head. Bush gave Horatio's neck a friendly squeeze and moved his hand to rest on the other's shoulder, reluctant to break contact as much to reassure himself as Horatio.

"I am sorry about Mr. Kennedy. I know you were close."

"Yes." Horatio rubbed cold, wet hands across his face, then abruptly stopped as if trying to remember something important.

"Looking for these?" Bush pulled out the commission papers.

"Thank you." Horatio gazed at him steadily, almost, it seemed to Bush, apologetically. "I do not know what to say."

Bush shrugged dismissively. "You would have done the same for me."

Realizing Bush misunderstood and then further realizing he didn't know about Horatio's promotion, Horatio bowed his head again. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt this man's feelings or, God forbid, lose his respect.

"And congratulations, Mr. Hornblower."

//Then he *did* know.// "Thank you, Mr. Bush. This is most awkward, and I still don't know what to say, being given a command in this manner. Have you received your orders?"

"No. But the Renown is the only ship in port. Except for the prizes."

//Oh, God, he *does not* know.// "You were not aware the Gaditano's been renamed?"

There was a long pause before Bush realized.

"Retribution."

It was a statement, flat and almost disbelieving. The implications were staggering to him, not the least of them his own last possibility of a field command, and suddenly he was conscious of his
hand still on Horatio's Commander Hornblower's shoulder. He let it drop into his own lap.

"Then congratulations, *sir*."

Horatio cringed. "Please, Mr. Bush. After what you have just witnessed, this is hardly the time to stand on formalities. Besides, I am not so certain there has not been a grave mistake made."

//A grave mistake.// The words rang hollow in Bush's ears, but not through any artifice of Horatio's, he knew. Fifteen years at sea and still he was passed over for command by a third lieutenant, and with no indication that he had even made the grade to first. Would it be on the Retribution? Could he serve under this slip of a man/boy whom he confessed he admired, if not also being a little exasperated by the younger man's cunning and courage? In his true sailor's heart, he meant no disloyalty, especially toward Horatio, but he had to admit he was also getting tired of the slow progress his career was seemingly making. Then again, he also knew it would be easy serving under a commander of such fine qualities as the man sitting next to him. God knew, he'd served under far worse. The thought made him shudder, but the thought was only partly to blame. Suddenly, he was freezing cold and didn't feel well.

"Mr. Bush?" Was someone calling his name? "Mr. Bush!"

Abruptly the world tilted and he felt himself falling. Falling He pictured himself soaring in the air above the surf like some magnificent frigate bird, the cliff face passing in slow motion beside him. He could see bright green and orange lichens, the white paint of bird droppings, the surf mist getting heavier...

Then warm hands were on his face. Was someone falling with him? He was almost down

A sharp slap broke his fall, and he opened his eyes to see Horatio peering at him anxiously. //If I did not fall, why am I lying on the ground?//

"How unforgivably stupid of me! In my selfishness, I forgot you too had been gravely wounded. Oh, God, you're bleeding!"

Bush watched in a daze as Horatio took off his own uniform jacket and tucked it tightly under Bush's shoulders. Bush could feel the warmth spreading, but when it trickled down his sides, he knew it wasn't warmth from the jacket he was feeling.

Horatio then shucked his vest and stuffed it under Bush's head, cushioning him against the small stones that were starting to bore into his skull. "Lie very still. I am going to go get Matthews and
Styles. Promise you will not do something foolish and heroic like trying to walk back on your own!"

Bush could only manage a weak nod of acquiescence.

"Right." Horatio dashed off, his running footsteps fading until all Bush could hear as he drifted off again were the raucous cries of distant gulls.

* * *

Even from a distance, the Gaditano, now Retribution, looked different. It wasn't the one new topsail that was whiter and more opaque than the others. It wasn't even the gleam of the brightwork that a whole bevy of midshipmen were busily polishing. She was sitting higher in the water, perhaps through a subsumed pride in her new, young, freshly minted commander?

Bush shook off the ridiculous notion. She was riding high on the waterline because she wasn't fully fitted yet, something Matthews and Styles were loudly but good-naturedly and efficiently trying to accomplish.

Bush slowed his pace, eyeing the ship that by all rights should have been his in the natural succession of things. At the same time he wasn't jealous of Horatio. Disappointed a little, perhaps. But being a man brutally honest with himself, he had to acknowledge that, had he been a more ambitious type, he would've already made commander. The fact that he hadn't, coupled with his delight at knowing he would be serving with Horatio again, had settled the issue for him. Perhaps he didn't aspire to command. Horatio deserved the commission for his brilliant performance in going to war against both the Spanish and ultimately his own unfit captain. And there was no doubt the lad was quick to assess battle situations and even quicker to hatch some mad plan. Firing an empty cannon, for God's sake! But it had worked and with capital results.

As Bush neared the ship, he saw Horatio standing on the quarterdeck, speaking to one of the marines, who wheeled smartly, off on some errand. Horatio looked up to assess the work being done in the high rigging, then down to the stern. Then, beyond the stern, he saw Bush approaching on the pier.

Bush couldn't remember having known in his life a more expressive face than that of his new commander's. When Horatio saw him, even at that distance Bush could see the shadows of sadness still lurking behind the eyes, then a slow curl of a smile starting to form, and last and most pleasantly shocking of all, Horatio threw him a welcoming salute that was observed by all aboard.

As Bush strode up the gangplank to officially take his post as First Lieutenant of the Retribution, he did so with an anticipation he hadn't felt since his first day at sea.

It was going to be a most interesting adventure.