Title: Water under the Bridge
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Hornblower, movies
Pairing: Hornblower/Bush, Bush/other
Warning: hints of non-cons in the part 1, later violence
Summary: An acquaintance from the past appears on the ship, and Bush
finds himself in a tight spot
Thanks: Huge thanks to Das Tier for the most wonderful and considerate
beta and enormous help. If something sounds really good, it's her merit.
WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE
For Das Tier, Salome and William Berry
He should've been kinder to her. Next time he would.
Horatio made this promise, looking at the folded fluffy socks knitted by his
wife's not quite skillful hands. Oversized and clumsy as they were, he knew
they would serve their purpose, maybe not this time but later, on cold winter
nights when he'd be wrapping himself up in the blanket trying to get warm in
vain. Just like the gloves she had made served their purpose.
But now he didn't want to look at them. Stuffing the socks to the far corner of
his trunk, he chided himself for the relief it brought him. He didn't have the
right to shove the thoughts about her away with the same eagerness.
He should've been happy with her. Really, there was no reason why not to be.
Wasn't happiness what everyone expected from someone wed only a few months ago?
He recalled Sir Edward Pellew's words, as the man cheerfully informed him
"Soon you are going to dread visits to my office. Every time I call for
you, it is to get you away from your lovely wife again. But at least I hope I
redeemed my fault by giving you such a short notice so that you could spend
another night with her."
With time, it became somewhat easier to answer such things.
"If Mrs. Hornblower was aware of your kindness, she certainly would be
grateful to you."
"In other words, it would be a cold comfort to her. Now to the business.
Tomorrow you will take a passenger and the Hotspur is going to sail...
He followed the tip of Pellew's finger, moving south along the west shore of
Portugal and farther down.
"Right. I don't have to explain you that it is not going to be an easy
journey." That is why I entrust it to you, Pellew's eyes said, and
Horatio, once again, as always under this burning, passionate gaze, felt a
fervent wish not to disappoint him. "It is a highly important mission and
you have to do everything that depends on you for it not to fail."
Perhaps there was a bit too much enthusiasm in Pellew's voice - like it always
appeared to be when he himself didn't quite enjoy the idea, as Horatio had come
to learn. But he was not going to make it more difficult for his commander.
"I will, sir."
"Good. Good. The man will embark on your ship tomorrow at noon and after
that you will immediately set sail."
"May I ask his name, sir?"
For a moment there was a pause, Pellew looking at him as if weighing his
"Mr. Andrew Linsford it is."
"The 'Morning Chronicle' Andrew Linsford?" Horatio heard Pellew clear
his throat and quickly schooled his face into a mask of composure.
"The unofficial representative of the foreign offices Mr. Andrew Linsford.
Yes, *that* Linsford, indeed."
Horatio remembered the articles signed by this name - short essays always
written in a brilliant, dry, sarcastic tone, no matter what the man touched -
the course of war, social life or his travels, as Linsford seemed to travel a
lot, visiting most exotic places. As far as Horatio could judge, he'd really
been everywhere he wrote about - but the reason why the name stuck in his mind
was that sometimes in Linsford's precise, clever writing, there was such a
never-missing stroke affecting the readers' emotions that it was impossible to
"He will inform you about the rest of the mission," Pellew added.
"It is apparently considered top secret. Or they themselves aren't sure
what he's going to do there," he grumbled, barely audibly.
"Aye-aye, sir." Horatio pretended he didn't hear the last phrase.
He couldn't deny he was excited. Perhaps he shouldn't have been. With the war
in full swing, this journey, even though dangerous, still was nothing like
being engaged in action - and what right did he have to find this distraction
desirable? But he did think it fascinating, couldn't wait to start it.
And now the time was coming, and even Maria's tears were something Horatio
didn't need to dwell on any more.
A short knock on the door made him raise his head.
"Mr. Bush. Is everything ready?" In his excitement Horatio gave the
man one of his rare smiles and he saw how it reflected briefly in Bush's intense
"Yes, sir. She can sail off at any moment."
"Then we only wait for our guest. I hope it will not bother you to share
your quarters with someone again."
"No, not at all, sir. I don't think anything will bother me, after
Horatio looked at him. Bush's voice sounded calm as always but there was a
little quirk to his mouth. Horatio bit his lip secretly.
"But really, Cotard was not so bad after all. You seemed to handle him all
right in the end, didn't you?"
The moments when Bush allowed his attitude of perfect subordination slip off
just a little were always brief, and the times when Horatio accepted it were
even briefer. But this was the way is was supposed to be, was it not? They were
the Captain and Lieutenant; what had been possible on the Renown, and even
later, when they both had lived on half-pay, became improper now. Even when it
came to the personal matters...
Horatio remembered Bush's appalled, obviously distressed look as he'd told him
of his proposal to Maria - a moment when he shook his head like he didn't want
to believe it. The truth was that then Horatio didn't want to believe it either
- but what was done, was done. And as Horatio continued, asking him to be his
best man, Bush seemed to recall his position quickly, saying no word to
Bush had been most supportive through the event, and Horatio was grateful to
him for the joy in Maria's eyes that for a moment made Horatio forget his own
misery - and for making the wedding a less awkward occasion than it could have
Yet sometimes, when Bush's eyes turned at him, he caught this wistful, somewhat
sad look and was not sure how to take it - with fear or with longing - for
there was the sadness he couldn't afford to feel himself. Fortunately, it was
always very brief, and Horatio could ignore it if he wanted.
"Thank you, Mr. Bush," he said dismissively, and immediately heard
another knock. "Yes, Mr. Orrock."
"The guest is on board, sir," the young man said, out of breath.
"I'm coming." He took a brief glance at the mirror, checking if he
The man standing on the deck was very tall and thin. Horatio could see only his
back - lop-sided, one shoulder higher that the other, as he leaned against the
rails, looking down at the rippling water beneath. He was dressed as a civilian
and his hair, dirty-blond and lank, was caught in a narrow black ribbon.
Horatio stopped, waiting.
"Sir," Orrock called, and the man turned, his very pale green eyes
sliding around and then fixing on Horatio's face with a strange, disturbingly
intent look. "Captain Hornblower, sir," Orrock added.
The man walked up to him briskly, dragging his left leg with every step.
"Linsford. My orders."
The man seemed to speak fast and move fast, his hand, narrow and spidery,
thrusting the papers at him. Horatio took the documents, read them, the
information there no more than Pellew had given him. He folded the papers,
using the small pause to find the right tone for the moment, such as probably
Linsford expected from him - open but business-like.
"Welcome on board, sir. May I introduce to you - Lieutenant Bush, Mr.
Linsford, the messenger of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs." He wanted to
add something about 'Morning Chronicle' but thought better about it.
He expected Bush to say some polite words - and was surprised to hear none.
Horatio turned slightly, frowning, and stopped still, bewildered.
Bush's face was ghostly pale, all the color drained from it - it was only once
that Horatio had seen him like that, when the boat of the Renown was sinking
and Bush was caught in the rope. And his eyes looked exactly like then - the
eyes of a drowning man, of someone who looked his worst nightmare in the face.
"I believe the introductions are unnecessary," Linsford said, his
voice softening, acquiring a drawl, charming and yet somewhat unsettling.
"We have met before, haven't we, William?"
* * *
The first night on the ship Horatio usually slept well. It seemed his sleep
ashore, at home, was always troubled, likely because of the unusual solidness
of the bed - or because, even in sleep, he was aware of the presence in his
bed, the presence that he couldn't make himself welcome.
This night, though, he was restless,. Perhaps it was because he hadn't burnt
his nervous energy yet, the way in front of them a hard one that would demand
daily and nightly alertness, but for now they still were quite safe. More to
the point, he should've rested while he could. But even as he forced himself
into sleep, the dreams that came to him were fitful and disturbing.
He dreamed of Archie, something that he rarely did lately. With time passing,
the pain that had seemed to be never-fading, was growing dull and most often
barely present. And even Archie's face - it'd dimmed in his memory, as Horatio
didn't have a portrait to remember Archie by.
In his dreams he couldn't quite say how Archie looked either, there was just
the definite knowledge, as it happens in dreams, that it was him. And there was
an insistent beat of worry that haunted him, a feeling of something he had to
do but didn't know how - even though in a corner of his mind Horatio knew that
everything had already happened. He hadn't been able to save Archie. He had
Disturbed and sad, Horatio sat up, pulling the collar of his sweat-soaked
shirt. The small flame of the candle seemed distant and almost unreal as he
kept seeing the deck of the Papillon far below him - and the boat drifting away
from the ship slowly, Archie's curled body in it.
And another picture came to him, the memory he hadn't had for many years - but
which seemed not to fade at all, unlike Archie's face - him looking at the
skull tattooed on Simpson's hand as the man raised himself from the water among
the wreckage of the Justinian.
He couldn't sleep after that and didn't want to try, so he dressed and walked
out to the deck. The night air was clean and cold and it felt good to breathe
it full lungs.
Prowse, the habitual insomniac, saluted him briefly, and Horatio stood in
silence, looking at the darkness of the water in front of him.
* * *
"So, this is the best you've managed to do, William? The lieutenant on a
twenty-gunner? Under the command of a boy years younger than you? How
He wouldn't answer that. The words had the only purpose - to sting - and he
knew it, and by God, they worked exactly as they were supposed to, no matter
how he tried not to listen, not to let them get to him.
And the voice - precise, ironic voice, emphasizing words like they were gems
falling from the tongue. He thought he had not remembered it, except for
sometimes, in his dreams, and even then he could deny it.
It seemed he'd never really forgotten it.
"But on the other hand, what else could one expect from you? You always
were a little nonentity, no wits, no brilliance, no courage. Pretty blue eyes,
though - was it not what Harlow liked about you? Oh sorry, I forgot. It's not
for your looks he chose you - but for your skills."
He didn't have to tolerate it, did he? He was a grown up man, an officer, not a
fifteen-year-old boy, a helpless midshipman not knowing better than to mistake
manipulation for kindness and wander into a trap like a stupid mouse. Bush felt
his fingernails wound his palms, as he tried to bring himself back to reality,
shield himself from the past that was crowding on him.
It didn't work. There was a reality of its own in his mind, and Andrew
Linsford's voice was a part of it, and he knew he was not ever free from it.
His mouth was so dry it hurt to swallow, and with dizziness Bush knew that there
was just one thing he couldn't deny, one emotion that overwhelmed all others.
Fear. He hated himself for it and yet could do nothing.
"Just as well, since you haven't seemed to keep your looks. Oh, you are a
sad sight, William, time hasn't been kind to you."
"It shouldn't be your concern." The words were ashes on his tongue,
disgustingly helpless, and even saying them took more effort than he seemed to
be able to muster. His cabin seemed tiny and constricting, Linsford staying in
front of the door, leaning against it, his arms crossed.
Like he expects me to try to escape, Bush thought. Yes, right. Run from his own
quarters. From his own past. Just how much uglier could it all get?
This weakness was unforgivable.
"Indeed, why should it concern me? It's you who can't rely on your looks
any more - and see where it has brought you. I'm sure, William, if Harlow had
demanded your services for somewhat longer - or if you had kept offering them,
you would already do a Captain's position."
"You don't know anything of me."
Yet Linsford didn't need to know, did he? He could do it just like that, make
him sound so pathetic, despoil his life just in a few sentences, casually.
Linsford's pale eyes gazed at his face in the familiar, persistent way. It
seemed the man never needed to blink, could stare like that for longest periods
of time, not giving even a small break.
"Oh but I do know something."
And it was the truth, and how disgusting, how utterly unfair it was that such a
thing, a thing Bush had thought he had put past him long ago, could come back
now - to destroy his life, everything he had - his career, his future...
destroy the only friendship he had in his life.
If anyone knew, Bush thought, cold spreading through him in a numbing, doomed
feeling. If anyone knew of his disgrace...
If Horatio knew. And the name of his Captain, the Christian name that Bush
dared to say only to himself, was sweet and bitter in his mind.
"The Vindictive - I'm sure the name is still remembered. Ill fame always
sticks. Don't you remember it, William?"
He wished he could forget - the name of the ship - the taste of the damp
mattress clenched between his teeth until his jaws ached, until there was
nothing else but the moldy, bitter taste of old horsehair in his mouth - and
the pain became distant, as if floating outside, not a part of him.
And the cultured, cold voice, enunciating every word clearly:
"You're spoiling the brat, Harlow, I'm sure he can take more. Let me
show you how it is properly done."
"Marks fade, William." And Linsford was not at the door any more but
even closer, taking a step forward, his pale eyes the only thing Bush seemed to
see, no matter how he tried to break away from this gaze. "But memories do
He wanted to step back, anything to put at least some distance between him and
those translucent, cold eyes - but he couldn't, just the table behind him,
nowhere to go.
"Don't touch me," the words were a whisper, and even Bush himself
knew they lacked strength. And it seemed Linsford didn't hear them at all -
well, why would he listen, if Bush let him not to?
"What will your Captain say when he knows that you started your
*brilliant* Navy career as a whore for your superior on the ship whose name was
blackened by a scandal?"
The words were like a slap, and yet it was true, and he knew it. A whore, a
whipping boy, an endless entertainment during the hours of idleness. At least
he hadn't died, like that boy, Miles, did. But once again Bush thought that
maybe he would be better off dead.
"How fast and how eager will he be to get rid of your presence on the
If Horatio knew... Such dirt, such loathsome things - Bush couldn't bear the
thought how defiled his Captain would be by hearing of them. By hearing of his
lies and betrayal.
The man he trusted, the man he asked to stand at his side on his wedding... a
midshipman on the Vindictive. He'd betrayed Horatio's trust.
He wanted to say something but his lips were so numb it seemed he couldn't move
them - and what could he say? Linsford's gaze was satisfied now, a smile
appearing on his lips.
"I see we understand each other, William. No wonder, you always were a
smart boy - always knew what was better for you."
He thought he would be sick now and swallowed quickly to fight it. Oh really.
If he had been so weak to allow it all to happen to him - if he still was so
weak that he couldn't take what was due to him - the blame, the contempt, the punishment
- he should've just taken *this* instead.
"As pathetic as you always were, I still enjoyed your services once,
William. I think I will enjoy them again."
Bush closed his eyes, shame coursing over him in a drowning wave, and yet he
knew that he would do nothing to prevent it. He'd lost - and he deserved what
was going to happen.
* * *
Staring at the map, a divider in his hand, Horatio felt that the ink contours
of the shore blurred in front of his eyes until they became just one shapeless,
ugly stain. It was hopeless. He let the instrument drop and rubbed his face in
irritation. He was so tired. This voyage shouldn't have been such pain.
In fact, it was going easier than he expected, the Hotspur managing to keep out
of danger so far, sliding like a shadow past the French. It demanded constant
attention, of course, and was draining, but still, wasn't Horatio supposed to
feel relieved how smooth everything was going? He hadn't often been so lucky.
And still he felt exhausted - as if something was sapping his strength, some
hidden difficulty he had to overcome daily. And maybe it was there.
He knew something was wrong, even though he didn't know what.
Sometimes, in a fancy mood, Horatio liked to think that he had some strange
connection with the ship - like that time, during his first command, when the
knowledge that Marie Gallante was holed had come to him in a dream. And now the
Hotspur - all of it, the ship, the crew - in the usual smooth way of her life
something was jagging, and this something bothered him.
And worst of all, when in his search for support he turned to where he always
did, as he was used to - he couldn't find it any more.
Bush wasn't there for him.
Oh, he was there all right, on the deck, wherever Horatio needed him, efficient
and accurate as always. But something was missing; as if he was just a
mechanism, not a man.
There were times when Horatio thought he would possibly prefer his men to be
replaced by some kind of competent machines - when the *personalities* became
too much for him and he couldn't find patience enough for every one of them.
But now... now it felt wrong.
How wrong? What could he reproach his Lieutenant for?
I don't like it how you stare into nothingness - as if I'm not here, as if
*you* are not here. What kind of talk would it be? I don't like to feel
every time like there is a wall surrounding you and there is there's no way in for me. But wasn't Horatio himself all for strictly official relations between them?
And he wasn't sure if it mattered at all. Perhaps it was his imagination.
I don't like it that I don't see your little, curved smile shared with me
any more, your ironically quirked eyebrow. I don't like that you don't even try
to reach for me any more.
Was it because now Linsford was there, and Bush's attention was... distracted,
somehow? Was Bush now reaching for Linsford instead?
Horatio remembered their first evening, when they had dinner together, the
three of them. Linsford was charming, exactly everything that Horatio always
failed to be in society - witty, sharp, observant - funny and cruel remarks
spilling from his tongue with no effort.
"You know why they sent me on this mission? Because my little essays
somehow managed to convince them that I'm the right man for this job, the word
"literature" never coming to their mind. And since I did set some
contacts with various hot-heads on the Moroccan coast, who are by chance
willing to do a little back-stabbing work to get on Bonaparte's nerves... here
Horatio nodded. The easy tone didn't deceive him but he didn't know if he was
put off with the apparent contempt the man seemed to feel for everything and
It seemed that Linsford felt this slight reticence, as his voice changed
suddenly to a more serious one.
"I'm sure your ship will deliver me there safely, Captain Hornblower, and
back, with my mission being successful."
"I certainly hope so," Horatio said.
"I am relying on you. If you forgive my audacity, you seem to know what
you are doing."
Horatio must have given him a look, because Linsford smiled, pointing at his
"I started in the Navy, didn't you know? I still miss it. Would do
anything to be a part of the sea life again."
With a corner of his eye Horatio saw Bush's downcast gaze, behind the glass
brought to his mouth his lips set in a pained curve that Horatio knew for a
sign of extreme tension. The conversation had been between him and Linsford
till now, he realized, Bush must've felt left out, even though he was usually a
quiet one. But now Horatio was glad for the chance to involve him into a
"Is it how you got acquainted?"
The glass brought to Bush's lips wavered a little, and there was something in
Bush's eyes that made Horatio feel uneasy, a strange surge of alarm going
through him even though he couldn't explain it.
"It was the beginning of Mr. Bush's career, yes." Linsford was
smiling. "And I was a young lieutenant who somewhat helped him to settle
down. Is it not so, William?"
It was probably the first time when Horatio heard that immediate, toneless
answer Bush was giving to Linsford's words.
"Yes, it is."
He heard a lot of that in the next days. Linsford talking and Bush answering in
monosyllables but always without a pause, always what Linsford seemed to expect
him to say.
It didn't make him feel good. But perhaps it was just that he was
feeling...should 'jealous' be the word?
Or deprived? Or cast out? Horatio told himself that if he cut his conversations
with Bush short, there was no reason why Linsford couldn't talk to him. And
they had known each other before, they were on the first name basis, for God's
sake - and *he* was not on the first name basis with Bush. So how could Horatio
Perhaps it was just foolishness, his imagination that Horatio should've known
better than allow to run free. He had more important things to focus on and he
was going to do exactly that. He had the ship he was responsible for, and the
crew, and they by far were not out of danger yet.
He couldn't work in the end, unable to concentrate, the stomping of feet on the
deck a constant distraction. He got up and walked out, nearly running into
Styles, whose head, in his usual stupid manner, was turned to the direction
right opposite to where he was going.
Horatio rolled his eyes.
"Um, sir..." The man stopped, looking at him, his face wearing a
somewhat confused, hesitant expression, not quite usual for him since Styles
never had a problem of finding words.
"Yes?" Horatio stood, waiting for him to go on.
"Sumfin I wanted to tell ya..."
"Ah, Captain Hornblower." Horatio heard the brisk, limping steps
approaching as Linsford's cultured voice reached him. "You've decided to
take a look at the surroundings, haven't you?"
"Yes, Styles," Horatio repeated, looking at the man - but Styles
already seemed to forget what he wanted to say, looking away and withdrawing
"Nufin, sir. Nufin at all."
* * *
"Where did you get this scar from, William?" The hand touching his
midriff was heavy, insistent, no way to escape it - and he knew better than to
"The Spanish," he said curtly. Somehow saying more, even raising the
memory of the battle on the Renown, the battle that had brought about Kennedy's
death, and Captain Sawyer's, and young Wellard's, would mean to defile these memories
Bush managed not to think of it. He became quite deft at not thinking of
things, he thought wryly, deft at disentangling his mind from them at his wish.
This ability he'd developed still back then, nearly twenty years ago, and how
easily it resurfaced when necessary... Like he never really forgot it.
It was easier this way. It was the only way to live. Only sometimes he wasn't
sure why it was so necessary to live after all.
"It's a pity that you are not wearing any marks left by us, William, isn't
it? I thought Harlow had given you plenty, and some were quite deep."
The same voice, counting strokes - 'twenty six... twenty seven...' - was
etched so deeply in his mind that it never really seemed to leave. And 'The
bugger is crying, Harlow, let's give him something to think about. Come here,
"You always had that stoic way of taking it, unlike Miles. But Miles was a
pansy, I think it angered Harlow most of all."
Bush remembered that. Stifling nights in the overcrowded room - and a skinny
dark-eyed boy on the next cot, with his nose always stuffed and the eyes of a
frightened rabbit. These eyes met William's in half-darkness, full of terror
and fervent wish that Bush could read so clearly because it mirrored his own.
Please not tonight. Please let them be busy elsewhere.
The little prayer they repeated day after day.
"I knew he'd kill one of you some day. He never knew when to stop, poor
Harlow. That's why I got out of it before it became too hot - right in time, it
turned out. The others were not so fortunate. But you were lucky as well,
weren't you, William? First that you stayed alive... and then that you covered
your traces so well."
Bush knew it would come to that, sooner or later - it always did - and yet it
always made him flinch - like nothing that Linsford did could. A thumb touched
the corner of his mouth, letting him know that his sign of weakness was not
"Deceiving your Captain, aren't you, William? And he seems to be of such
high opinion about you. What would he say if he knew what you are?"
"He will know, if you don't become more cautious." The words were
dull, the impudence of them coming out of despair. This thought had scared Bush
so much in the beginning - but somehow he'd come to live with it by now.
Horatio would know. Linsford was practically bringing it on, probably risk
sharpened his enjoyment. It was a ship, after all, a small one, not seven
hundred men like the Vindictive - and even there everyone had known.
In the sea, there could barely be any secrets. Perhaps some hands already knew,
Bush thought, Styles was giving him an odd eye recently.
And when Horatio knew... well, he wouldn't have to stand condemnation and
disappointment in his Captain's eyes. He wouldn't need to see loathing in the
eyes of the man who meant *everything* for him.
He wouldn't hang for buggery. There were always means to prevent it.
"Oh yes, yes, sure, so afraid to disappoint him. The young, reckless,
handsome Captain of yours. Too handsome, is he not, William? Too handsome for
his own good."
* * *
The wind was strong and salty, showering him with sprays of water, but Bush
didn't feel like going inside. His presence on the deck was not necessary now
but it was all the same for him where to be. Or, more precisely, there was no place
where he wanted to be at all.
So, it had come to that finally. For a while - for these short months on the
Hotspur with Horatio, he had let himself feel happy, feel at ease. Every day of
seeing the face of the man who'd become the most important person for him in
the world - it was happiness. Even when Horatio was getting more distant from
him - first because of subordination, then because of his marriage - even then
every time when Bush looked at him, he thought that it was enough, he was
contented with it, would want nothing more.
He let himself believe that it could always be like this. Before the Renown,
before meeting Horatio and Archie, he must have been going through the motions,
doing something, he had some aspirations, wanted promotion. But behind that,
there had never been anything, and he hadn't even realized this gap.
He hadn't realized it could be different - like he hadn't realized, before
seeing Horatio and Archie stand by Wellard, that someone could care. They had
changed so much for him. They had changed him.
But now it had come to an end. He had to face it. No matter how cowardly he was
- he had to accept it. The only meaningful thing in his life would be ruined if
he didn't do something, as soon as possible.
"Do you think I don't know, William? Do you think I don't see anything?
Tell me, it's his face you imagine? His hands touching you? What would you like
him to do with you, William?"
Sickness came over him again and he swallowed quickly forcing it down,
breathing in the wind deeply.
"He will never touch you, of course, won't he, William? Too clean, too
innocent for such dirt, our Captain. But still, notoriety is like this...
should anyone know what you are, what do you suppose they think? That he is
blameless? You and him, on the ship, the Captain and Lieutenant - what did you
do during the long nights of your journey? Not enough to bring it to the court,
of course, but you won't shut people's mouths."
The man always had a flare; always knew where it hurt.
And Bush was getting so tired of that, of having to refute absurd accusations -
and they even didn't seem so absurd any more. What if people really thought so?
What if they believed?
He couldn't let it happen.
He turned, looking at Styles, seeing the man chew his lower lip, as if at a
loss. And almost immediately Bush knew what was going to happen, in horror and
It had started. He was not mistaken - he hoped he was, but didn't he know that
it was just his weakness that made him deny the obvious? Styles knew. And he
was going to blackmail him.
All to the better. Just a sign for him that it was time to blow out his brains.
Like Harlow had done.
The tone of his voice appalled him - so dull, one word seeming all he could
manage. But at least Bush hoped his gaze was properly cold and steady. If
Styles was going to say that, he wouldn't make it easier for him.
"It's gunna be u-right sir," Styles mumbled.
"What?" It didn't sound like anything Bush expected, so he had
difficulty interpreting it.
"It's going to be all right, sir," Styles repeated - and his voice
was low, almost cooing, like one would speak to a child or a seriously ill.
It was not... it couldn't be. Bush stared, unable to utter a reply. Styles'
big, ruddy face was crumpled in a grimace that, he understood with dread, was
Styles was pitying him. Now that was a real disaster.
He shook his head, straightening, making himself look fully controlled.
"I have no idea what you are talking about, Styles. And don't you have
anything to occupy yourself with?"
"Then go wash the deck, it always needs cleaning."
Damn him, Bush thought as Styles turned and walked away with a loud sigh. Damn
him with his silly face that Bush had come to be attached to somehow and with
his misplaced attempts of kindness.
And damn himself for causing it all.
Had he waited for too long? Why didn't he finish it before, right when it
started - sparing himself so much indignity, all those days - those *nights* he
didn't want to think about? Why did he let it go on for so long, until it
became impossible to hide - because if Styles knew something, there could be
others who knew, too.
But he didn't want to leave the ship. He had duties, and it would complicate
things, the ship staying without the officer on such a journey. He didn't want
to fail Horatio... didn't want to leave him.
Horatio, with his dark, passionate eyes - Horatio, reedy thin and yet strong
like a steel rod - Horatio, with his mouth generous and wide and a sweetest
smile in the world - a smile that Bush almost never saw any more.
Horatio, who sometimes looked like he was walking barefoot on broken glass and
it made Bush want to build a perfect shelter for him, to protect him against
Instead of it, he could ruin Horatio. Unless he took immediate measures.
And he wouldn't use a gun to put a stop to everything. Suicide meant scandal in
any case, after all. There were more unobtrusive ways.
A noise from the aft made him turn, a bucket rattling - and then Linsford's
voice - Bush couldn't make out the words said in a hiss, but he already knew
there was trouble there.
"You son of bitch, do you know what I'll do to you? Oh boy, you chose a
wrong man, you did."
Bush hurried there, his eyes taking the picture immediately: sulky-looking
Styles with a broom in his hands, the wet deck and Linsford, his eyes narrowed
and having that unblinking, hypnotizing look in them, as the words were
spilling from him, soft, measured and merciless.
"You'll beg to lick this water off my shoes and you'll do it now - or you
will regret it, regret it so much."
The sound of his words was nearly rhythmical - and even though they were not
addressed to him, for a moment Bush slipped under their spell, only to come
round with a shiver a moment later. He should have remembered it - and yet
every time it came as a surprise to him, how looking so serene, so harmless at
one moment, Linsford could become so... horrible the next minute.
And Styles was frightened now too, his cockiness gone, as he was clinging on
the broom like it was the only thing that held him.
"Sorry, sir. Didn't see ya, sir."
"But you lie, don't you? I saw you looking at me. You wanted to insult me,
how bad of you. So, will you lick?"
He had to stop it, Bush thought, until it became really ugly - and he knew, he
knew why Styles had done it, oh, what an idiot! Could he be less helpful in
showing his needless support?
Yet Styles did it for him. And Bush couldn't say a word, couldn't even make a
sound to give away his presence.
What was happening to him? Had he come to the point when his fear became
everything he was?
"What's going on here, Mr. Bush?"
He turned around, as if struck.
Horatio was there, frowning, looking at him. Horatio's presence had always been
his anchor, the unbearable brightness of Horatio's eyes, the strength of his
voice the only things that often mattered at all. But now even that seemed
Pull yourself together, Bush ordered himself, as long as you're not dead -
don't you dare to fail him.
"Oh, Captain." Linsford looked up, sounding nearly unconcerned.
"I think we have a problem here. Is the punishment for attacking a
superior still as it was in my times?"
There was no shadow of doubt in his voice, like he already knew what Horatio's
answer would be.
"Has someone been attacked, Mr. Linsford?"
"Why, me." His smile could be charming when he wanted to.
For a moment there was a pause as if Horatio regarded his words - and then he
said, very tranquilly:
"But I don't see any harm done to you, sir."
Bush saw Linsford's eyes flash up for a moment, as if anger gave color to them,
and his voice, still level, was not amiable any more.
"And what about that?"
Of course. His stockings were all wet and streaked - Styles obviously had tried
very hard 'not to see him'.
"With respect, Mr. Linsford. It's just some dirt on your stockings."
The calmness of Horatio's voice was absolute - as absolute, Bush could feel it,
as was his refusal to give in. Linsford might not notice it but he did.
"I do not insist on hanging him, of course." Linsford still spoke
agreeably, as if inviting Horatio to discuss the matter with him. "But
come on, a good flogging? I won't believe he doesn't deserve it, for this
misdemeanor or another one. Just the way to uphold discipline on your ship,
He always enjoyed it, didn't he, Bush thought. More men on the Vindictive had
been flogged on Linsford's orders than on anyone else's - and he always
watched, his lips pale and drawn in a frozen smile, his colorless eyes
Horatio had no idea what kind of a man he was, Bush thought helplessly, he
didn't know how dangerous Linsford was.
"I am afraid, Mr. Linsford, I don't need advice on how to carry out my
duties - as I do not give you advice on how to carry out yours. It doesn't look
like there is malice in Styles' actions, rather his usual stupidity."
"And I am afraid you are wrong, Captain. He did it on purpose." And
then Linsford suddenly was looking at Bush, his eyes catching his gaze, not
letting it go. "Mr. Bush saw it, he can confirm my words. Didn't you,
*William*? Didn't you?"
And he couldn't answer.
He knew he had to, knew what he had to say - and Horatio's brightest eyes
looked at him, and Styles' stared at him with a dismal, scared look - and
Linsford... and he couldn't.
How disgusting he was. So, it had finally come to that - to what Bush always
was secretly afraid of most of all. He'd become worthless. Still occupying his
place, still there - but his weakness had eliminated everything else.
If he couldn't do his duty - why did he still live then?
"I don't do flogging at request, Mr. Linsford." As if from afar,
Horatio's voice was reaching him, cold and restrained, anger evident in it only
by its brittleness. "Nor I do them upon a groundless suspicion. I'm afraid
you'll have to be satisfied with an apology. Styles."
"I'm sorry, sir," Styles mumbled.
"And you're washing the deck every morning from now on, till we're back
home," Horatio added.
"Mr. Bush," the voice was still cold and sharp, cutting like a blade
over his nerves. "Would you please follow me to my cabin?"
He walked after Horatio, like in a dream, past Linsford, past Styles who was
scrubbing the deck again.
So it was over now, Bush thought, really over. But maybe it was to the best.
* * *
The door shut close behind Bush, and Horatio turned to face him. And at this
moment all the angry, acidic words he wanted to say died on his lips. He had
been ready to say a few bitter things, intended to get through to the man,
break him out of his incomprehensible apathy, even if he had to be cruel for
it. But now Horatio felt he couldn't do that.
God, the man looked like a walking corpse - Horatio couldn't understand how he
hadn't noticed it earlier. But now, even in the dim light coming through the
half-curtained windows, he could see that Bush's eyes, widened, surrounded by
dark circles, had that wild, lost look in them, like he hadn't slept for
But why? What was happening?
What did he miss?
"William," he said softly, "what's wrong?"
It seemed Bush had been bracing himself for a rebuff - and Horatio's tone, in
its gentleness, startled him. He blinked and his gaze became even more
Horatio felt dismay. Bush, his Lieutenant, the one whom he used to see always
so composed - even too composed sometimes - it was strangely painful to see him
lost, vulnerable like this. There was something in his haunted, unhappy look...
something that Horatio thought familiar but he couldn't pin down exactly what.
And then he saw how Bush seemed to regain control with an effort - and the
usual mask of quiet composure came back. Horatio met the gaze of the blue eyes
that looked steadily at him. Like tinted glass, everything hidden behind them.
"Nothing, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
You might as well be sorry, Horatio thought. Exasperation surged through him.
What did Bush think, that he was so easy to deceive? Why was he denying - and
making things more difficult? Like Horatio didn't have enough problems now as
He forced patience into his voice again, trying once more.
"I know something bothers you. Do you trust me so little that you cannot
share it with me, Mr. Bush?"
Bravo, Horatio. Now wasn't it rather manipulative?
For a moment the composure in Bush's eyes broke again, naked misery shining
through, and Horatio felt, in surprise, that it hurt him to see Bush like this
- to see him so obviously unhappy - and to know that something was going on and
Horatio wanted to interfere but felt helpless because he even couldn't find
what was the matter, still less prevent it.
Once Sir Edward Pellew had told him that there was nothing on the ship that was
outside the Captain's control, and Horatio thought that maybe it was the reason
he didn't like to be kept unawares.
But there was something personal in it as well. It was not only his pride as a
Captain concerned - but it was like something of his own was touched. With
Archie's death, Horatio thought he'd lost the only person who could get this
close to his heart and there was not going to be another. He didn't think that
Bush... but then there were never any problems with Bush, he was always...
always helpful, and quiet, and reliable...
"Sir..." Bush's eyes, darkened-blue, looked at him with an anguished,
desperate expression. "Sir." He stopped, as if thinking better than
continuing, reminding himself of something that made him force his control
back, though not quite successfully. "It's really nothing, sir."
"Oh come on, man!" Now Horatio's patience had run dry. "Enough
He made a step forward, urged by his anger and disappointment, and grabbed
Bush's shoulders, shaking him - like it could've prompted him to answer. Bush's
exhausted, unhappy face was so close, his eyes wide open and staring at
"Talk to me!"
Bush's shoulders were stiff under his grip, his body string-taut, frozen, and
the concealed resistance of it, even though he didn't move to get free,
mirrored the resistance Horatio felt in his silence.
And then suddenly another thought struck Horatio, one that didn't have any
connection with the situation and he didn't know where it came from. For all
the time they had known each other, no matter how much time they spent side by
side, it was the first time he touched Bush in such a personal way. Yes, there
was that time when he and Archie dragged him from the cliff, wasn't there? But
it was not like that, that time it had been a necessity...
Horatio had always valued his personal space, and guarded it especially warily
after his marriage, when he seemed to never be alone at home any more. And now
he stood in the personal space of another man and...
But he'd think about it later. Right now he wanted his answers and if he had to
shake them out of Bush, he would do it.
Perhaps he could say something that would work to a better effect, Horatio
thought, something like 'I'll help you', or 'Trust me' - but at this moment
another voice came, pleasant, soft and cold.
"Oh, what an interesting sight."
The closing door made a soft, squeaky sound - the sound it hadn't made when
opening - and now Linsford was in the room, leaning against the wall at the
Horatio felt how under his hands Bush flinched hugely.
"I thought I would find something like that, sooner or later,"
Linsford said. "But it looks like the things are progressing with an
It took a moment for Horatio to realize the meaning of these words - and then
he saw himself as if from aside, as Linsford could see them - him standing
strangely close to Bush, his hands on the man's shoulders. He flushed and
removed his hands quickly, stepping away - and realized that he couldn't do
anything worse to prove his 'guilt'.
Bush didn't say a word, looking down, all color gone from his face.
"I see you've achieved your goal, William. Managed to seduce your Captain.
Of course, you wanted it so much, didn't you? You just can't have enough. I
wonder who else you entertain on this ship."
The words were so incongruous that at first it was only the tone that
registered with Horatio - leering, sarcastic, insinuating. And he saw how Bush
seemed to clench, hiding into himself, his face ghostly pale, his hands clasped
so hard that the knuckles were white.
He hated to see that. It shocked him how much anger it brought him - to see Bush
hurt like that - but he didn't have time to think about it. He stepped forward,
half-consciously realizing that he did it to stand between Linsford and Bush,
to put a barrier between them.
He made an effort to sound calm.
"I'm afraid your meaning escapes me, Mr. Linsford. Besides, I would like
to remind you that you cannot enter the Captain's quarters without an expressed
"You should be glad it was me who entered," Linsford said in such a
simple, confiding tone that for a moment Horatio was startled. The man seemed
to be changing every moment, from insulting to friendly, from hostile to
charming. And yet, Horatio thought, he knew what didn't change in him - his
eyes. Always hollow and attentive, studying him. "What if someone of your
sailors saw you in such a position, Mr. Hornblower? You haven't even pulled the
curtains. Do you not care for your reputation at all?"
"My reputation is not of your concern. Neither is the morale of my men.
There is nothing there to damage it."
"Glad to hear, glad to hear." There was anything but joy in
Linsford's eyes. His gaze, Horatio thought suddenly, it looked... hungry. Like
he was foretasting some pleasure, something he'd put off for a while. Very
deliberately Linsford's gaze moved from Horatio to Bush. "It's good that I
seemed to enter in time - or do you think you would've been safe with him any
Bush flinched, as if lashed, but was silent.
"You should express yourself more clearly, Mr. Linsford," Horatio
said, feeling how with every word disgust rising in him. "If indeed you
have something to say."
"Am I unclear? Oh, am I?" The irony in Linsford's voice was
poisonous. "Well, I'll try then. Are you aware of Mr. Bush's - or should I
say 'William's' - most hidden secret, Captain? He was a midshipman on the
Vindictive. Seventeen years ago it would be the best anti-recommendation one
could have on his list. Although, Mr. Hornblower, you might be too young to
The Vindictive... it did stir something in his mind. Horatio frowned. He heard
this name - he was only a child then, wasn't he? And the adults were talking
about it in the hushed tones, something obviously not intended for his ears.
Oh yes. And it came up once again, when he'd told his father he wanted to join
the Navy, and the name of the ship was an argument his father used in the heat
of conversation - but even then there were just hints, just
'The Floating Brothel'. Right. A boy, a midshipman, killed in such a brutal way
that it caused a scandal, a scandal revealing other secrets, rape, and abuse,
and buggery. And someone was going to be hanged but committed suicide in time,
thus hushing the talks...
"Ah yes, I see you remember." Now Linsford's voice was pleasant
again. "Let me assure you that our Mr. Bush played his role as a
midshipman on the Vindictive to the hilt - with everything that it
With a corner of his eye Horatio saw how Bush's shoulders stooped, as if
something in him was broken. He still looked down but his hands unclenched -
like there was nothing he could hold onto. He didn't look tense and desperate
any more - he looked... doomed.
Leave him alone, Horatio thought angrily. He remembered - he remembered the
Vindictive - but he remembered something else. Simpson's hateful voice,
breathing words at him: 'What's your dirty little secret?' And Archie's face
that could be so happy and shining, freezing in blankness under Simpson's
He knew why Bush's look seemed familiar to him. So trapped, desperate Archie
had looked when Simpson called his name.
He remembered saying to Simpson, on the Indefatigable, that those were new
times. But it didn't save Archie - and there were no new times, for some
things, and Archie was screaming Simpson's name in his nightmares in the
Spanish prison, years later.
There are things you can't be free from... he himself had managed to get free
and that was why he knew how difficult, nearly impossible it was.
"And Mr. Bush hasn't changed since then," Linsford continued in his
graceful, calm voice. "You can ask him yourself, Mr. Hornblower. No wife,
no sweetheart, why is it so, William?"
The look of misery and shame in Bush's eyes as he finally looked up, as if only
Linsford had this power over him, was unbearable - and again Horatio was surprised
how much it hurt him to see it, how *personal* it felt.
He wouldn't let a stranger harass one of his own, Horatio thought. But it was
exactly what he'd let happen. And damn, it was so unfair - that Bush had always
been here for him, never failed him - and he, Horatio, failed him like this.
Bush didn't deserve it, it shouldn't have happened to him, he shouldn't have
been hurt like this, wounded by this link from the past.
The past that had continuation in the present, Horatio thought with disgust and
"Since you speak about the Vindictive, Mr. Linsford, was it not where your
career started as well?"
"Ah, but I left in time. My name was never tainted by a scandal."
You left because you knew there was going to be a scandal, Horatio thought.
"This scandal was a horrible thing, Captain. So many good men implicated,
just by association. I dread to imagine something like that can happen on
another ship. On the Hotspur, for example. Her Captain and Lieutenant... ah, it
doesn't bear thinking."
So, now it was a threat. Horatio knew that Bush understood it too, shifting for
the first time, trying to say something. Horatio raised his hand, stopping him.
He didn't need a sacrifice. He could deal with the situation.
He wouldn't let his ship be destroyed. And he wouldn't lose anyone close to
You can challenge him, Horatio thought dryly. Well, once the duel had solved
the things. But he was not seventeen any more, and it wouldn't be a solution at
all. And after all, he had his orders - to take Linsford to Morocco and bring
him back. And that he would do.
"Do you suppose, Mr. Linsford, that it is the right course of actions, to
spread rumors like that, rumors that can distract the Captain from his duties
in a difficult situation and endanger the ship.
"Rumors?" The jeer was unmistakable in Linsford's voice.
Horatio felt his throat clench in anger, and yet his voice sounded calm as he
"Yes, rumors. And as you said, when you start splashing dirt... Some might
recall that you served on the Vindictive at one time as well."
He could threaten too. If he needed to fight Linsford, he would fight dirty.
The bastard won't dare to do anything, Horatio thought. He wished he could tell
Bush so, explain it right now. But his only hope was that the man understood -
as he always did.
"Rumors," Linsford repeated, and this time there was a little
concession in his voice. "Perhaps you are right. It is not the time for
"All of us should make an effort to fulfill our duties, shouldn't we? Not
wasting time on anything else."
"Truly." Linsford's tone was bland and Horatio thought with triumph
that he was winning, the man was giving in. "How long will it take us to
"If everything goes as planned - three days. Maybe four."
"Then I hope *nothing* will distract you from continuing on your path
without problems," Linsford said, looking at Bush so deliberately that
Horatio felt hot with anger.
He gave Bush a brief look, hoping that it said 'I'm on your side'.
And I suppose that nothing will distract you from preparing to your
mission, sir. So if you would like to change your cabin for another
accommodation, I will see what I can do."
I won't leave Bush alone with this bastard any more, Horatio thought. Bush
looked like he was barely standing on his feet, he needed some rest.
Anger flared in Linsford's eyes - and was gone almost immediately.
"Very kind of you, Captain, to offer me your quarters. Shouldn't you have
been so hospitable from the beginning of our journey?"
Son of a bitch. But let him be, Horatio thought, right now damage control was
the most important thing.
"Then we are agreed, Mr. Linsford."
He wanted to kill the man. There were few people whom Horatio hated this much -
and right now Linsford was right on top of the list.
"Yes. Yes, Mr. Hornblower. We agree."
At least for now - it stayed unsaid but Horatio felt it. He wasn't so naive not
to understand it. If the man got a chance to strike, preferably at his back -
But at least so far things seemed to be settled.
"If there is nothing else, Mr. Linsford..."
"Just one question - when can I move to my new quarters?"
"You will be informed, as soon as they are ready."
Linsford turned, strangely graceful despite his limp, and walked out, the door
closing softly behind him. Horatio felt his strength drain out of him. He was
so exhausted - he wanted to slump on the chair and bury his face in his hands -
and just think about nothing for a while.
But it was not finished yet. And the part of the conversation that lay ahead
for him was probably the most difficult one.
He turned to Bush, the man looking up at him immediately, as if preparing to
meet his eyes. Bush's face looked tired and sad but he also appeared calm.
Like a sentenced to death is calm, Horatio thought. Damn Linsford, for doing it
to him. And I was a fool for not noticing it earlier.
"I'm sorry, sir, for not informing you earlier about my time on the
Horatio let his anger break through, his eyes flashing.
"I don't remember asking you about every place where you served." He
made a step towards Bush, glaring at him. "Neither I remember asking you
of your preferences for... for bed partners."
Ah, that was subtle, Horatio. You handled it so well.
But he could see something in Bush's gaze break, as if Horatio's fury had
smitten away some barrier inside him. He was not protecting himself from me,
Horatio thought, he was protecting me - from himself.
Oh William, he thought sadly, reproachfully. The tentative hope in the man's
eyes was breaking his heart.
Horatio raised his hand slowly, put it on Bush's shoulder again - and now the
man didn't stiffen under his touch.
"How long do we know each other, Mr. Bush?"
It seemed not to be the question Bush expected.
"Over two years, I suppose."
"It feels longer for me," Horatio said. It did. Maybe because Bush
was a part of his old life, of the life that, as Horatio thought sometimes, was
gone forever with Archie's death. Bush was the link that connected those two
lives, keeping them from falling apart.
"For me too, sir," Bush said quietly.
"You never failed me. There is no man more loyal than you in my life. Why
is it so hard for you to accept that I can also be loyal to you?"
So quick to give, so slow to accept a gift... as Archie had once told about
him. He understood Bush because he himself was like that. Only Horatio couldn't
help himself; but at least he could try to help the man.
Bush was dear to him. It was the truth, and now Horatio couldn't help but admit
it. So dear that he would do anything not to lose him.
"It's... it's not hard, sir."
"Then do it. Trust me. Because... I trust you."
The last words were difficult to say but they seemed right and something in
Bush's eyes was changed, the forced calm draining out, and there was such hope,
such gratitude shining at Horatio that it sent a pang through him, both of joy
and something else. He was dimly aware that his hand clenched convulsively on
Bush's shoulder, as if holding onto him - but Bush didn't seem to mind the force
of the grip.
"I need you," Horatio said. "I need my Lieutenant. I need my
He didn't know why he hadn't said the last word before. Maybe because it was
the word he had called Maria, trying to protect himself from her - and in the
end it hadn't worked - and after that he found it easy to say it only of those
who were dead. But now it sounded so right.
He saw something opening in Bush's eyes - opening for him, at last completely -
and Horatio felt a surge of relief coming over him. He could try not to admit
how much it bothered him - but now it felt right.
His hand was still on Bush's shoulder and he felt how Bush straightened, his
eyes meeting Horatio's gaze steadily.
And Horatio smiled.
"It's quiet," Horatio said, putting the glass down, his eyes
narrowed against the sun. The line of the shore was green of the trees and
grey-brown of the rock, and the boat, tiny at this distance, stayed on the
sand, abandoned and empty. As it had been for over than twenty-four hours by
No sign of Linsford coming back.
They had reached the place yesterday, staying away from lively ports.
Linsford had pointed Horatio the destination on the map, a secluded bay with
the shore that looked completely uninhabited. Linsford, with his lips pressed
tightly and his movements brisk and business-like, studied the coast for a
while and then demanded a boat.
Horatio's instructions were not to ask any questions but the look of he
location filled him with doubts.
"Are you going to go alone, Mr. Linsford?"
"Oh yes, Captain, I don't need a number of your badly managed
beasts to accompany me."
Horatio didn't really care to send someone with the man. In fact, he
would be happy to have Linsford away from the ship. When they came back to
England, he would have his men to scrub every inch of the Hotspur clean,
especially everything in his cabin that Linsford touched, he thought.
"When shall we wait for you to be back, then?"
"Tomorrow morning. At dawn. I might be back earlier so do not even think
of wandering around. And prepare to sail as soon as I return, we cannot waste
any time here."
The dawn had come, and yet Linsford had not returned.
So, what was he supposed to do now? Horatio caught himself on a thought
that seemed strangely attractive - that Linsford wouldn't return at all - and
stopped himself forcibly from thinking it. Linsford could be a bastard, but
there were orders.
And if it were anyone else lost on the shore, perhaps in danger -
wouldn't Horatio do anything to try to help him? Would he just sail away, once
the time was over?
"I can take a party to check, sir," Bush said thoughtfully,
also looking at the shore.
Horatio kept silent. Bush knew him damn too well. He would've never
forgiven himself if he hadn't tried to do something for Linsford, it would
always hang on him with the knowledge of his duty unfulfilled.
"Besides," Bush added in the same wistful way, "we can
take a look at the place, while at that."
Yes. And *that* too. Thank you for reading my thoughts, William, Horatio
"Just wondering where those future 'allies' of England keep their
ships," Bush continued.
Horatio had asked Linsford about it. The man looked at him with a
grimace that conveyed the deepest imaginable contempt.
"It's just a meeting point, Captain Hornblower. Why do you ask
these questions? Do you have some authorities, unknown to me?"
Horatio looked askance at Bush, who seemed calm and even casual as he
kept watching the shore, as if quite unconcerned with Horatio's answer.
It was good to have him back, Horatio thought. He knew nothing was so
easy, as long as Linsford was around, and maybe never would be easy at all but
at least Horatio didn't have the feeling any more that something bad was
happening near and he couldn't figure out what.
He wished he could do something more - he didn't know what more, and
always, when having a choice whether to talk or not to talk about things,
Horatio chose not talking, maybe because with Maria he was so often forced to
say things he didn't want to.
However, Bush was always taking his silence for granted - like he was
taking for granted to be there where Horatio needed him - and stay out of the
way when he didn't - and keep as much out of Horatio's personal space as
possible now, when they shared the quarters - a little more and he would be
sleeping on deck.
And he knew what Horatio wanted.
"Mr. Bush, take six men with you. You have four hours to search for
Mr. Linsford. If you don't find him or if you feel any danger, return
Horatio watched them row away, under the accompaniment of Styles' gloomy
muttering about 'good riddance' and 'why to look for him'.
And now six hours passed, and the dusk changed to thick, cloudy darkness
- and the party still was not back. And Horatio could feel how every minute
elapsing was chipping away at his composure.
He had known something was wrong. Why did he have to send Bush there?
Send others there? Duty be damned. His duty was to his men. What if he had lost
He peered in the glass, desperately trying to see something in nearly
impenetrable darkness. On the shore, there were lights gathering. Horatio
looked at them, knowing that whatever it was, it wasn't what he wanted to see.
Too many lights to belong to his men.
"What do you see, Mr. Prowse?"
"What can I see there?" the man grumbled. "I'm not an
Horatio tried to see if there was a boat leaving the shore - but it was
futile, and only complete silence, except for the softest splash of waves, told
him that no one was approaching.
Horatio didn't know how much time passed. His fingers went numb,
clenching the glass. This waiting in anxiety was a torture.
"I see him! It's Styles, sir!" When he heard Matthews yell it,
for a moment hope sprang in him. And yes indeed - at some point, it seemed the
darkness had started dispelling - and now the shore was not ink-black any more,
and Horatio could discern moving shadows there. The night had passed.
It indeed was Styles, Horatio recognized the brightest neckerchief the
man was wearing - red and yellow, its ends flapping on the wind. The dusk was
swiftly receding, and he could see Styles kneeling on the shoreline, and a man
behind him, pointing a gun at his head.
"Ooh bastards," behind him Matthews said bitterly.
They were there, all his men, kneeling on the sand in a loose line, and
behind every one of them a man stood, faces hidden behind facecloths, aiming at
their heads. With lurching heart Horatio moved the glass along the line,
finding Bush kneeling there. The man's expression was grim and he held his left
arm pressed to his chest under an awkward angle.
"What the hell..." Prowse muttered next to him. And as if on a
clue, knowing that they finally could be seen them clearly from the ship, one
of the men walked up to the boat and jumped into it.
Horatio watched as two other men took the oars and the boat started
moving to the Hotspur slowly. The first man stood, looking at them, and even
once raised his hand and waved it.
They didn't even bother with a white flag, Horatio thought angrily, but
why would they? His men were in their power.
The sun was quite bright by the moment the boat reached the ship. The
man standing in it pulled the facecloth down, showing a bright smile that
didn't falter even when he looked at the marines pointing the guns at him.
"Who are you?" Horatio said as soon as the boat was close
The man was tall and dark, dark-eyed, and his face seemed to be made of
soft clay, so easily it crumpled in a smile.
"Do I have an honor to speak to the Captain Hornblower?" The
man's accent was heavy but he spoke quite correctly. "Can I get to the
"No. What is the meaning of it all?" Horatio made an effort
for his voice to sound calm. The man's grin became wider.
"But I thought it was pretty clear, Captain, was it not? We present
our part of the bargain - to persuade you to offer yours.."
"And your part of the bargain..."
"... is that we won't kill those people in front of your eyes, of
course," the man finished brightly.
"And what will prevent us from killing you right now?" Prowse
"You can try," the man said quickly. It seemed to be a
question he expected. "These men are just fishers we hired to help,
completely innocent and absolutely of no value for us. As for me... I'm sure my
commander values my life much less than you value the lives of your
"Who is your commander?" Horatio asked, struggling to stay
"Commander Youssef El Malik sends his greetings, Captain."
And then a horrible thing happened. One of the sailors on the shore,
Tucker was his name, suddenly jumped up onto his feet and bolted. It was surely
not an attempt to escape, just a breakdown - but the gunshots were immediate.
Horatio saw the small figure jerk and fall, face down, on the water line, and
not move any more.
For a few moments he was tight as a string, deeply afraid that others on
the shore might panic as well - and that would be a disaster. But they stayed
The men in facecloths came up to Tucker, pushed him with the barrels of
their guns - and walked away - and it was a sure proof that the man was dead,
Horatio thought bitterly.
The man in the boat, who had watched the picture in his glass, turned to
them, still looking quite cheerful.
"As you see, we don't have scruples killing one of yours. Now would
you like to see others die as well - or would you listen to the Commander
"What do you want? Money?"
"Money?" the man laughed. "How much money can you offer
for the lives of your men, Captain?"
Not much, Horatio thought, not much at all.
"You don't have enough to offer us," the man interrupted him
before he had time to say anything. "All your little boat," he gave
the Hotspur a long, condescending look, "doesn't cost so much as we
Not the ship. I won't surrender the ship, Horatio thought. To do this
would mean to doom all his men to captivity and likely death. There were only
seven - now six - men on the shore, and Horatio knew what choice he had to make.
Leave while he could. That was his duty. It would be a right decision.
Bush would approve it. In fact, he would definitely insist Horatio to do it.
He would leave, and their blood would spill on the yellow sand...
"Our Commander wants to invite you, Captain, to visit him
For a moment the most overwhelming feeling Horatio had was relief. Not
the ship - just him. That he could do - that he would do, certainly. His men
wouldn't have to die.
Because the ship could live without her Captain - but the Captain, as he
had seen, hardly could live without the ship.
"Will you let my men go then?" he asked levelly.
"No. But we won't kill either them or you. You have the Commander's
word on it."
Good. He took a deep breath - and suddenly was aware of the silence
"Sir, you're not going to..." Prowse started, and Horatio had
neither time nor wish to listen to it.
"Mr. Orrock." He turned, meeting the gaze of the young
midshipman. "You have the ship. If I, or Mr. Bush, don't return till
tomorrow, or if you're threatened in any way, you will sail for home."
"Aye-aye, sir." Orrock sounded efficient as always, even
though not happy at all.
"Please leave your weapons on the ship, Captain," the man said
politely, "would you mind?"
Horatio looked down, freeing his sword and handing it to Matthews, then
giving him the pistol. In Matthews' eyes, there was a strange expression,
sadness mixed with understanding.
"I still think you should..." Prowse muttered.
"I don't need your opinion on my actions," Horatio said, his
tone mild even if his words weren't.
"May I go with you?"
Matthews nodded, as if it was something he expected.
"Then good luck, sir." His hand brushed against Horatio's arm
and then his side shortly, startling him a little. But as he turned to
Matthews, the man had already stepped aside.
Horatio thought whether there was something he could say as the bigger
part of the crew was staring at him like he was going to the gallows. He could
find nothing. Everything would seem terribly full of pathos to him.
So he just turned and descended to the boat.
As the boat moved closer to the shore, Horatio found himself torn
between two urges - to look at the Hotspur, the ship he was leaving, he didn't
know for how long - and the closing shore where the lives of his men depended
He looked at the water instead, only sometimes glancing at the chipper
man next to him, who was whistling some tune all the time.
In a way, this forced idleness was so bad that it was almost easier when
the guns pointed at him as soon as the boat neared the shore. Horatio saw the
faces of his men - pale and anxious as they looked at him, Styles snorting
blood that dripped from his nose on his gaudy kerchief.
"You shouldn't have done it, sir," Bush said as Horatio
stepped on the sand.
I couldn't have done anything else, he thought. And at the same moment
hands were on him, dragging him forward, twisting his arms back, and a dark
stripe of cloth was pulled over his eyes. Horatio struggled a little,
instinctively, hearing Styles curse and the sounds of commotion next to him.
"Hush your men, Captain," the voice of the cheerful man
reached him. "It's just blindfolds so that you didn't see the way."
"Calm down," Horatio ordered, trying to sound composed
himself. He found it difficult - the sight of his men, alive and safe, was a
secret consolation for him. But he made himself relax. It quieted around him,
and then firm hands clasped on his upper arms, pushing him forward.
The path was uneven, first rising uphill and then going down, and
Horatio very much doubted they were taking a direct way. Several times he
stumbled against bigger pebbles and only the hands holding him kept him from
The thought of breaking away immediately was on his mind, but he had to
admit that right now it was completely impossible. Even if he managed to made a
sign to his men, and all of them could get free from the hands that held them
and yank off the blindfolds... they didn't even know where they were.
He couldn't afford acting in haste.
They stopped finally; the wind was stronger on his face now and there
was some salty tang in it, so he supposed they probably were walking along the shore,
climbed to one of the cliffs there. The blindfold was removed, and Horatio
blinked, trying to get used to the bright light.
Around him, his men were blinking too, rubbing their arms that were not
held any more. Bush's face was paper-white and the way he held his arm was even
more awkward. Horatio thought that if they'd dragged him the same way as
others, it had to be quite bad pain, and yet he hadn't heard a sound from him.
They were on a small, secluded plateau, perhaps really on the top of a
cliff, but the big boulders on one side hid the sea from the view. On the other
side it was bordered with a tall fence made from thick, sharp poles. In front
of him, a structure was clinging to the rock, a house seeming to be an
integrate part of the cliff.
Horatio saw a figure in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb, and
for a moment, even though he recognized the man, his mind refused to make a
Andrew Linsford looked at him with a bored, slightly disgusted
"Welcome to your new home, Mr. Hornblower."
Deep in his heart, Horatio couldn't but admit that he suspected
something like that. Suspected and still denied it, not wanting to give in to
his antipathy to the man. If he had... maybe his men would be safe.
"I thought I would see you here," Linsford continued.
"Your nobleness is sometimes so... predictable."
"So far so good, Andy-boy." The man who'd come for him to the
Hotspur walked up, smiling happily, and Horatio saw how Linsford barely could
suppress a shudder at being addressed this way. "We did a nice job, didn't
we? Now it's your turn to do your job nicely."
"Don't you worry about it, Youssef," Linsford muttered.
Right. What a fool, Horatio thought with disappointment. The man *was* a
commander - and they had him in their hands on the Hotspur - and let him bluff
his way out.
If he alone were to bear the consequences, Horatio would have thought
that he deserved it, for his stupidity.
"I'll bring you the answer in three weeks," Linsford said.
"Do it. Three weeks I'll keep them."
And then Horatio felt something snap in him, his anger not in check any
more. He stepped forward, not paying attention to the pistols pointed at him.
"Oh I think you should be more careful when striking a deal with him,
Commander El Malik. Because if we are the only way to achieve his cooperation,
you are going to be in a tough position. He will betray you - as he betrayed
He saw Linsford's face distort as the man stepped forward to him, his
voice a hiss.
"What makes you think you ever were my fellow, Hornblower?"
"So, I should say 'betrayed his country' then?" Horatio said.
A blow was heavy, making his head jerk and his mouth fill with blood.
"He will betray you, Commander, because it is the only thing he
knows how to do. He disgraced himself so many times - what is one more for him?
All you are going to gain for it - just prisoners to feed for three
Now Linsford's face looked really horrible - and suddenly a pistol was
in his hand - and before Horatio had time to get frightened, a shot threw him
on the ground.
It was strange, he thought, he almost didn't hear the sound, just a soft
clap - and it felt like a big paw pushed him. Like he was not wounded at all.
But there was strange heaviness in his left side, and touching it with
his palm, he saw it come red with blood.
"You bastard!" He heard Bush's voice and saw him being shoved
back brutally, a short cry escaping him as the gun-butt slammed against his
"I'm all right, don't do anything," Horatio shouted.
Linsford stood over him, looking down. Horatio struggled to rise on his
elbows and felt strangely weak. It also seemed to be getting darker and he blinked,
trying to dispel the dimness. He saw Linsford freeze as Youssef cocked his gun,
pointing it at Linsford's head.
"If you wanted me to believe that the boy was telling the truth -
you couldn't do anything better, Andy," the man said in a low, dangerous
Horatio saw Linsford swallow, his throat moving, but his voice was quite
calm when the words came.
"You know I won't deceive you. I merely didn't want to take more
insults from the brat. You can trust me."
"Yes. As far as I can throw you, is it how you English people
say?" Youssef's voice was cold, all cheerfulness gone from it. "But I
tell you something, Andy-boy. Deceive me, and you won't sleep well ever again,
even in your sad, damp London. You will return with the answer. And you will stop
killing my prisoners."
With disappointment Horatio saw that the man lowered the gun.
"If I wanted to kill him, he would be dead," Linsford said.
"I can shoot. I actually made you a favor, Youssef. Mr. Hornblower is
quite famous for the troubles he causes. But now he likely won't be so...
"You know what?" Youssef's voice was still chilly. "I
don't need favors I don't ask for."
"Besides," Linsford said slowly, as if suddenly recalling
something, "it gave me a deep satisfaction to do it."
Horatio heard barked commands, in the language he didn't know, and the
men were coming up to him, raising him on his feet. Horatio could feel blood
running in a hot stream against his side. He still didn't feel hurt, just
somewhat heavy there. And yet when the men tried to push him forward, he felt
that his legs suddenly became very weak, giving in under him. The darkness
finally stepped so close that he could see nothing else, and at the next moment
he slipped into it fully, sagging on the hands that held him.
* * *
Horatio came round in the near darkness. Or so it seemed to him until
the dimness in front of his eyes dispelled and he saw a faint, flickering light
of a candle. Pain was like a huge stake thrust into his left side, going deeper
with every breath. He tried to move and found himself somewhat restrained. Bush
looked down at him with worry in his eyes.
"Mr. Bush... how is your arm?" The voice came out
"Fine, sir. I think it's broken."
Horatio smiled feebly. So much like Bush, to say something like that. It
hurt to smile; it hurt to breathe, too, or to talk. Dreading, Horatio raised
his hand and patted over the wound. It was wrapped tightly, the cloth just a
little wet on the top. His jacket was taken off and tucked around him and there
was something else soft under his head - Bush's jacket, he thought.
"The bullet passed right through," Bush said. "Please,
sir, don't move."
"So the bastard said the truth," Horatio whispered, puzzled at
how much effort even such a small thing demanded. "He can shoot."
Bush's lips quirked but a smile barely reached his eyes. Peering against
the dim light Horatio looked around, saw the others, sitting on the floor a bit
away from him. They seemed to be locked in some room without widows, a cellar,
He saw Styles and others shift a little when they noticed him looking -
as if to gather closer. And their stares prodded Horatio to move. He couldn't
show his weakness. They relied on him and he had to be strong for them. If he
just ignored the pain, he was sure it would go away - or at least would be
postponed till he could deal with it.
He struggled to sit up, finding it strangely difficult - until a hard
palm supported him, helping him. He nodded at Bush in gratitude, feeling too
dizzy for words for a moment and swallowing coppery tang in his mouth.
"Do you know what is going on?"
Bush answered him, with the others nodding. They had found no signs of
Linsford but instead saw another bay and two ship there.
"I recognized one of them," Bush said flatly. "It was the
The Amaranth. The name sounded somewhat familiar. Horatio recalled
finally - a clipper gone missing two years ago, suspected to be attacked by
"She has another name now, of course," Bush continued,
"but it was her. I don't know what the other one was."
They had started to return to the shore, and there they were
apprehended, outnumbered so much that they didn't have a chance.
"We shouldn't have given in," Bush said, and Styles and others
had the idiocy to nod in agreement.
"Yes," Horatio whispered angrily, "you shouldn't. You
should've got yourselves killed. Now what a negligence that you didn't. Try
harder next time." And when his words were greeted with silence, he immediately
regretted his harshness. "I shouldn't have sent you," he muttered.
Yet what was the point to think of 'what ifs'? He'd done what he'd done,
and now they could only think how to get themselves from this situation.
"What do they want?"
Now there was silence.
"I expect they want to keep us as hostages," Bush said
finally. "But for what purpose..."
The heavy bolt on the door rattled, rising, and the door opened, letting
Linsford in. And as Styles made a motion as if to get to him, two more men
walked in, their guns cocked.
"Stay in place, stay in place." Linsford's pale eyes looked
like a cat's, glittering in the faint light. He looked around the cell until
his gaze finally stopped on Horatio, who tried very hard to keep the grimace of
pain out of his face. "I see our brave Captain is already up. Good, good.
But don't strain yourself too hard, you know how these wounds are - so easy to
make them worse."
The intense loathing Horatio felt to the man was burning, making blood
thunder in his ears deafeningly. But he wouldn't give Linsford more
satisfaction than he'd already given.
"So, you're serving the pirates, Linsford? How lower than that can
For a moment it seemed Linsford struggled with his anger but then his
face became serene again.
"Ah, I see you've already been informed." His gaze slid over
the others. "Your men, Hornblower, shouldn't have been so curious. And you
shouldn't have sent them to spy. Now what shall happen to you, who knows? Who
knows if you ever see England again? And I will go back there on your ship,
Captain, and bring the news from my friends. They are happy to help our
country, just for a few small concessions, and my mission will be
Horatio wanted to say that in England they wouldn't believe Linsford -
or that they wouldn't cooperate with pirates but he wasn't so naive. And the
thing that hurt most of all was the thought of the Hotspur.
"You won't get in charge of my ship. My men won't trust you."
"Oh won't they? When I come back to the ship, saying that your
orders are... But wait, what orders did you give to... Mr. Orrock, I
Horatio felt blood rush away from his face and knew he didn't manage to
hide his dismay.
"Exactly, Mr. Hornblower. He wouldn't have a choice but to sail to
England. Tomorrow, I think," Linsford added after a pause, "the wind
is getting stronger. Not that you will feel any wind on your face for a long,
long time. And I can't wait to get back to writing," Linsford continued.
"The newspaper is looking forward to my essays. I think, Mr. Hornblower,
when - *if* - you come back to England, you might find yourself unexpectedly
Horatio bit his lips. Linsford's tone was not threatening - it didn't
need to be. He could imagine it, had seen it before - how merciless the man
sometimes was in describing those around him - but until now Horatio always
thought they no doubt deserved it.
Well, perhaps he deserved it too.
But Maria... she was reading 'Morning Chronicle' and Linsford's essays, he
saw her laughing and crying over them many times.
He felt dizzy.
Linsford's eyes followed him, clearly enjoying, and then slid over Bush,
stopping for a long moment.
"You did it for him, Hornblower, didn't you?" Linsford's voice
grew lower, having this intimate, almost rhythmical cadence. "Would you be
so willing to give yourself in if you didn't know how he felt about you? Is it
your guilt that moved you - or do you... do you by chance share his feelings, I
wonder. This kind of inclination... it indeed should be punishable, since it
makes men weak."
Horatio found himself gripping Bush's hand that still supported him, to
prevent him from saying anything or lashing out. He watched in silence as
Linsford walked out and the door closed.
"Tomorrow," Horatio repeated once the steps behind the door
died out. All the eyes were turned at him and he knew his men would do anything
he'd tell. "Then we have to get back to the Hotspur tonight."
He wasn't disappointed, their eyes lighting up. They trusted him - and
yet he couldn't help wondering if their trust was enough to save them. Was he
sending them to death as surely as it would be if he'd never given in?
"I want you to escape and get back to the ship. Take any chance you
have. Don't look at the others - the priority is to warn Mr. Orrock and Mr.
Prowse about what's going on. Is it clear?"
"Aye-aye, sir," the hushed voices echoed. He turned and looked
at Bush who alone looked not so much enthusiastic as calculating.
"It is a priority," Horatio repeated.
"Aye-aye, sir," Bush said quietly.
* * *
The candle had almost died out. Horatio tried to convince himself that
it was the fumes that made him feel light-headed. He would be all right as soon
as he'd get some fresh air; he definitely would be.
The pain was not getting easier to ignore; in fact, it seemed to grow a
small notch with every breath. Something in him was so scared with this pain
that he dreaded the time when he had to move. Yet he was not going to let his
men see it. They needed him, at least till a certain moment. And then he could
serve as a distraction, if nothing else.
They heard the steps at the door again finally and Horatio met Styles'
eyes and nodded. They were ready, and he struggled to get up.
He didn't expect that - the wave of dizziness coming over him, pain
enormous. For a moment it seemed that darkness was swallowing him again, and
Horatio couldn't understand what was with him, was he sitting or standing or
floating. A few seconds later he realized he was on his feet - leaning heavily
with his arm over Bush's shoulder.
"It's all right, sir," the voice was soft, coming as if
through a thick veil. "I have you."
There was something wet on his face and Horatio raised his hand weakly
to touch it. Trickles of sweat ran over his temples.
Styles was at his side, making a motion to put his other arm over his
shoulder. Horatio pulled away from him.
"No." He wished his voice didn't sound so feeble; he didn't
want to scare his men instead of encouraging them. "Don't waste your
effort on me. I'll make it in my own time. Remember, the priority is to reach
the ship, at any price." Styles dared to look discontent at it. "It
is an order. And it concerns you as well, Mr. Bush."
Bush didn't let him go. Horatio wanted to get free from the support but
knew he would just flop down then and it would be even worse.
"You won't slow me down, sir," Bush said quietly, hardly
audibly for others to hear. "I don't think I will be really fast anyway,
with my arm."
That was a twisted piece of logic but there was such a wave of weakness
coming over him that Horatio gave in, he couldn't argue any more, succumbing to
the warmth and steady support with gratitude.
The door opened finally, and Lawson and Styles yanked a man forward, one
blow knocking him out. A bucket of water rolled on the floor. Someone outside
the door made a surprised gasp but Styles was already out and Horatio heard
another body falling on the ground.
Till the last moment Horatio was not sure he would be able to walk - but
when the time came, he found it easier than he expected, even though he leaned
heavily against Bush's shoulder.
They moved as quietly as they could, up the stairs. There were two more
men there - also overpowered in silence. Now four of the sailors were armed.
They heard voices and froze for a moment but it all seemed clear.
They almost made it when a small figure rushed under their feet. Horatio
saw Styles grab it and raise into the air. A small girl, no older than seven,
stared at them with eyes enormous with horror over Styles' hand covering her
Styles' hand was so big and rough and the girl seemed so frail, like a
doll in her tattered clothes, that for a moment Horatio got scared, he didn't
know of what.
"Styles, no," he whispered furiously. The man looked at him,
puzzled - and let the girl go.
Her shriek was piercing. Horatio couldn't understand the words but he
could guess quite well.
Now there was no time to be careful. They shot when hearing steps
approach and broke outside, to the night air and pouring rain, and then Horatio
suddenly bumped against Lawson's broad back and knew it was over. The sounds of
cocked guns were all around them.
"Drop your guns," Youssef said, appearing on the threshold.
"Drop your guns and no one will be hurt."
With despair Horatio saw that all his men were still there, no one had
managed to escape. They still clenched their guns.
"Drop the weapons," he said. Even simply standing became
unbearably hard all of a sudden and he wanted Bush to let him go - and at the
same time the only consolation that came to him at this moment was from feeling
his lieutenant close.
"Very reasonable, Mr. Hornblower." The hated voice belonged to
Linsford. Strangely, Horatio barely could muster any anger against Youssef and
yet Linsford's presence made him dizzy with loathing. Linsford walked up to
him, seeming oblivious of the rain hitting his face. "It's a pity it is a
bit too late to be reasonable. See what I told you, Youssef? I probably should
have shot through his knee, not through his side - then he wouldn't run. But
it's not too late for that."
Horatio felt his whole body freeze as he looked at the gun in Linsford's
hand pointing at him. The expectation of the pain was bad but the thought of
his knee shattering, of him not being ever able to walk straight was the worst.
He swallowed sickness, licking cold, bitter drops of the rain from his lips.
And then he was pushed back, softly, was falling as the support he'd
come to count on was gone - but he didn't really fall, there was a wall behind
him - and Bush stood between him and the gun now.
Oh no, Horatio thought, don't do it for me, I can't accept it. Was it
the real meaning of Linsford's words, said earlier tonight, the words Horatio
had ignored then. Of attachment meaning weakness. Only Linsford didn't say
attachment, he said... but could it be? Could Bush feel - like that - towards
him? Could he, Horatio, feel...
"Now, William, you don't mean that," Linsford said. "I
know you, you always were a smart one."
"And you always were a coward," Bush said quietly and with
deepest conviction. "Shooting at someone unarmed, that's so much like
"No," Horatio whispered. He knew what Bush was trying to do.
"Out of my way," Linsford said, a blow throwing Bush on the
ground, a small sound escaping him as he must've hit his arm - and Horatio
looked at Linsford again - and the gun.
"Andy," Youssef's voice came, "what did I tell you? Stop
shooting my prisoners."
For a moment it seemed that words just breezed over Linsford - and then
he shrugged a little, making a step towards Horatio. The gun was still in his
hand but the barrel didn't point at him any more.
Instead of it, with a sickening pain, it thrust against his wound. Horatio
gasped, his breath halting, and he was dimly grateful for it because he wasn't
sure he would be able to keep a scream otherwise. The barrel of the gun was
pushing, twisting and turning against his wound - and Linsford's face was so
close and yet blurring in front of Horatio's eyes.
"Do you regret you tried to cross me, handsome boy?"
Linsford's breath touched his face but the words were coming from afar.
"You stupid, stupid little Captain. Do you feel sorry for it?"
A part of Horatio's mind wanted to scream, yes, yes, I'm sorry, just
stop it, please, please stop this pain - but a part was still holding, still
hoped that he could lose consciousness before the words were wrenched out of
"Beg me," Linsford said.
It seemed the gun pushing under his ribs had been the only thing that
kept Horatio upright - because now he fell, on his knees, the impact resounding
through his body. He felt hot and cold at once, the sensations changing so fast
that he couldn't make them out.
"Yes, like that," Linsford said. "Now you kneel - now you
It seemed the rain was in his lungs because it was difficult to take a
breath, and for a moment Horatio was terrified that he was drowning. He gasped,
swallowing water, streams leaking over his eyes, nearly blinding him.
"I'll... kill you... bastard," he said. "I swear."
Linsford's boot slammed in his side, toppling him down. He fell, on the
wet ground, strangely relieved that the world acquired stability again.
"Get the others in." Linsford's voice reached Horatio through
the cloak of dizzying pain. "And this one - I think a refreshing shower
will do him good. Both of them, I think, William, you'll keep the company to
your Captain, won't you?"
Horatio saw only the feet shuffling through the dirt past him,
recognizing the boots of his men as they were taken away. Next to him, Bush was
forced to kneel, his left arm hanging like a lash. Horatio could barely see
farther than that.
He couldn't get up. He wanted but he just couldn't. He saw Bush move to
help him but he was stopped, and Horatio added to it: "No, don't."
Rain was pouring, cold, seeming to numb the pain somewhat. Numb his body all in
Bush looked at him, his eyes sad and full of such open gentleness that Horatio
wondered how he hadn't seen it before - or maybe hadn't wanted to see. Was he
afraid of it - of this affection, this loyalty? Was he so afraid that he
deceived himself as to how deeply Bush cared for him?
Was he so much a coward?
He reached his hand, dirty and clammy, and a moment later Bush's hand
clasped it, and even though his palm was probably as cold as Horatio's, Horatio
thought it was the only point of warmth he still felt.
"It's not a weakness, Mr. Bush," he whispered, replying his
own thoughts, not even knowing if Bush understood him. "It's not a
* * *
It'd been three days since their failed escape. Three days since the
Hotspur was gone and Linsford was gone with it. And three days since Horatio
Bush remembered kneeling there, under the rain, his clothes soaked
through, and it seemed he couldn't get any colder than that - apart from his
arm that was throbbing with hot, sickening pain. And his hand was in Horatio's
palm, the comfort of this touch impossible, and Horatio's dark eyes stared at
Bush from the deathly pale, dirty face.
And then his eyes closed and the fingers slackened, and Bush panicked,
getting to him, yelling at those around them to help.
Youssef finally came out to the sounds and made a sign to send them in.
Bush began to shiver as soon as he was back in the cell, Styles and others
helping him to get out of the soaked clothes and forcing some of their own onto
him - and at this moment he didn't even care if he was naked among them.
He couldn't stop shaking and his teeth chattered - but it was all right,
it didn't matter. It was much worse with Horatio who didn't even shiver, his
eyes closed, his body cold and hard as wood, and he didn't even seem to feel
when the men were stripping him. The bandage on his abdomen was soaked with
blood and dirt.
"He needs a doctor," Styles said, his eyes looking horrified
and guilty, although how was any of it his fault? It was his, Bush's, fault,
that Linsford hated Horatio so much - if he hadn't dragged Horatio into it,
Linsford wouldn't have a reason for revenge.
It took them the whole day to make the guard even listen to them - they
were not even given water. But finally Youssef came - and shrugged, looking at
"Captain Hornblower shouldn't have tried to escape. Now he's paying
He did send the doctor in, though, or the man who served as a doctor for
the pirates. The man cleaned and bandaged Horatio's wound, put Bush's arm into
a splint and left.
His visit was of little help for Horatio.
"It's bad, sir," Styles said gloomily, looking at Horatio's
ghostly pale face and the convulsive movements of his hands as he pulled the
jacket over himself unconsciously, unable to get warm. "He's cold. If he
were hot, it'd be better but now..." Like Bush didn't know it himself.
They gathered all their jackets to put under and around Horatio but it
still wasn't enough. His face, distorting in suffering, looked so vulnerable
that it seemed years younger, and his voice was small like a child's.
"It's so cold... why is it so cold..."
Finally Bush couldn't bear it any more, pulled Horatio against himself,
pressing him closer, wrapped his good arm around him, Horatio's head against
his shoulder. If Styles or any other thought it inappropriate, he thought, they
could take it up with him later. But to his surprise they seemed to approve,
Horatio's body was burning against his, every breath of his resounding
through Bush's chest. Sometimes Horatio's eyes opened, blindly, a distant,
mesmerized look in them.
It went worse as the fever set at last. Horatio didn't feel cold any
more but intensely hot - and all Bush could do was to wet a cloth constantly,
wiping his face and trying to force some liquid between Horatio's parched,
He wasn't quiet any more, his face flushed, as he pushed the jackets
away from him. His chest in the open shirt was sleek with sweat, hands tearing
at the cloth violently. It was then when Bush heard him whisper, in an anguish,
It hurt to hear him call for her - and Bush forbade himself to think
about it. He felt Horatio clench onto his hand - and then more words came:
"I'm sorry I couldn't... couldn't love you... why did you want
me... I wanted a friend..."
Bush felt such pain thinking about it, the whole story of Horatio's
hasty marriage coming back to him. After it had been done, Horatio never talked
about it, nothing that could make people think he was any less than happy...
Only he wasn't happy at all.
The spasms got so violent at times that Bush couldn't hold him alone,
and then Styles and Lawson came to help. He listened to heart-wrenching little
cries Horatio made trying to get free, begging to let him go, begging not to
make him do something, not to send him to the riggings - and his hands clenched
on Styles' shirt with such force that the knuckles went white.
Then the fit passed and Horatio stayed exhausted, his breath shallow and
feeble and his face tired and distant.
Bush was exhausted to - so much that he was just blacking out from time
to time, slumping against the wall right next to Horatio, no matter how
determined he was to stay awake.
"You need to rest, sir," Styles told him, "we can take
care of him."
It was not that Bush doubted they could. But he was afraid to let go.
Even to himself Bush didn't want to admit that he was afraid that once he'd go
to sleep, he would wake to finding Horatio gone.
And this thought filled him with deadly cold.
* * *
He still fell asleep, after all, and woke up in utter quietness. The
candle was a puddle of melted wax and flame was tiny, barely giving light at
all. The men didn't move, snoring softly. Horatio's head was lying against
Bush's shoulder, peacefully, and Bush jolted up, horror surging through him. He
groped, trying to make sure, hoping it was not what he dreaded so much.
"I'm sorry for waking you," Horatio's quiet voice said.
It was so faint, barely more than a whisper - but it sounded perfectly
rational. Barely daring to hope, Bush touched his forehead, checking it. It was
not burning any more. At some point the fever seemed to break.
Horatio's fingers reached to his hand, taking it, and Bush immediately
regretted his boldness, trying to take his hand away. He knew so well how wary
about his personal space his Captain was, how invasive he could find this
The hand didn't let him go, and Horatio didn't seem to be bothered with
their position at all. Instead his thin fingers, tips hard with calluses,
twined through Bush's, holding them.
"I like when you touch me," Horatio said.
Bush felt blood rush to his cheeks. The words sounded unreal - but in a
dream he had never known how hardened Horatio's hands were. And at the same
moment understanding came to him. Horatio still was delirious; still didn't
know what he was doing.
"I've never touched anyone I wanted to," Horatio whispered.
Bush looked down at his face, so young, so thin after the illness. He looked
like a boy, so frail and wistful. "I have never kissed anyone I wanted
to," he said.
Bush didn't know what to do; propriety demanded him to interrupt him, to
spare Horatio from these confessions that he would definitely regret, once
conscious, wouldn't forgive Bush for listening. But the hand was clinging to
his with such force that he just couldn't let go, couldn't make himself shake
Horatio out of this fragile peaceful state, afraid to bring on another fit.
"There was a girl," Horatio said, so quietly that Bush wasn't
sure he heard everything. "Mariette... She was nice... I promised to save
her and... and didn't. She kissed me but I... I don't remember that. And after
that... nothing. Do you think there is something wrong with me?"
This question made Bush feel like his heart was wrenching. A part of him
seemed to always know that Horatio was quietly, secretly unhappy beyond his
self-composure. But he hadn't known how deep it was - how much self-doubt there
Something wrong with him... with him, who was so strong and so bright,
and if there was something good in Bush's life, it was meeting him...
"Did you want to kiss someone, Mr. Bush?" the feeble voice
reached him again. Even though being called by the name, Bush still couldn't
quite believe Horatio really realized where he was, who he was talking to.
"Yes, sir," he said quietly. He felt Horatio's head move in a
"I... I also... want to kiss... do you think you can kiss me, Mr.
His heart lurched, his hand clenching involuntarily on Horatio's hand
holding it. For a moment all the words, all the thoughts escaped him, even his
breath seeming to come to a halt. Sadness washed over him.
How he wanted to say 'yes' - it was everything he wanted, could dream
about. But how could he? It would've made him so happy if Horatio knew what he
offered, if he were not delirious, unconsciously speaking out the vague ideas
of his mind.
"Sir..." he whispered helplessly.
"I wish you could want to kiss me," Horatio said, and the
quiet, reasonable sorrow of these words contradicted the force his both hands
now were clenching on Bush's hand, pressing it to Horatio's cheek. His cheek
was warm, slightly rough with stubble. Bush could feel something breaking in
him, right and wrong not so obvious any more.
Was he more a criminal taking what was offered - or pushing him away,
leaving Horatio in his feeling of loneliness and misery? It could be
fever-induced but it was real for Horatio now. He didn't want to push him away.
"I want to, sir," he said.
He saw Horatio tilt his head towards him, his eyes half-closed but his
lips opening. Bush thought of the tight-lipped, awkward kisses he couldn't help
but see Horatio giving Maria.
His feeling of guilt was enormous - and still he leaned to those
half-parted lips, pressing his mouth to them, gently, carefully, ready to
withdraw at any sign of Horatio's discomfort.
But Horatio surged towards him, lips opening wider, hot and dry and
eager, meeting Bush's kiss. The little gasp Horatio made was caught into Bush's
mouth, and then their tongues met, and nothing else existed for a few moments,
just Horatio pressing against his chest, Bush's hand caught between Horatio's
palms, their mouths locked.
And even through the unbearable, painful joy of this sensation, the sadness
Bush felt was still stronger. How starved for a touch Horatio was... how lonely
he had to feel to lean into this contact with such passion, such eagerness. And
he, Bush, was an impostor, taking something that was not meant for him.
Their contact broke finally, Horatio slumping against him, a little sigh
falling from his lips. His hands still were clasped on Bush's but were slacking
"Thank you," he whispered, "it was good," and his
But long after he seemed to slide into quiet sleep Bush stayed awake,
listening to his breath, remembering the short, almost unreal sensation of
their lips linking.
* * *
"How many days
have passed, Styles?" He had asked this question before. There was no much
point in it and yet Styles answered, with unwavering enthusiasm, as he always
He probably thought
these questions served some real purpose, Horatio thought. Leaning against the
wall, he wrapped his jacket tighter around him. His fever had gone down but he
still felt chilled sometimes. And ever since he'd got better, Horatio saw how
the others looked at him. Like he had come back from dead and now everything
was going to be all right.
He wished he were as
sure of it. They relied on him, his men, and this unconditional trust was
almost frightening, lay too heavy on him. Horatio tried to suppress these
thoughts, telling himself it was only a sign of his recent illness, he would
snap out of it. He wouldn't let himself get sluggish or dispirited.
There had to be some
The guards did
everything not to allow another escape attempt, obviously given the strictest
orders - so, they kept the contacts minimal, even though some of the sailors
tried to engage them into a conversation, mostly by signs. But the door opened only
to shove a bucket in or out.
And now when the
Hotspur was gone anyway Horatio didn't want to risk another unprepared attempt,
which could end worse than the first one. There was the Amaranth, though, as
Bush had said. But chances were very slim to get there and take over it - even
though Horatio knew that if he told his men they were going to do it, they
would gladly try. And he didn't want them to die trying.
He was so proud of his
men. Locked in this tiny cell, with nothing to do but to count the days, they
still didn't give up and even kept passable discipline - which was Bush's
merit, of course.
In the dim light of a
candle - the only light they had seen for weeks, sometimes Horatio thought it
was the only light his eyes could tolerate any more - he looked at Bush who was
talking to Styles, lecturing him for something. Bush's arm was in a sling made
out of Styles' bright neckerchief - well, formerly bright. Bush's face was pale
and not healthy looking but quite calm.
Horatio remembered something,
looking at him - this husky, quiet voice, and careful hands touching him,
holding him when he was burning up. As soon as Horatio had come round, Bush
withdrew from him, sensitive to Horatio's needs as always.
Horatio always wanted
privacy - privacy he seemed not to be able to get anywhere now, when he was
married - and was touched with this consideration. But somewhere deep inside
him, there was also regret that he couldn't admit even to himself for Bush
keeping this distance between them now.
breach it - not only because it was no time and place for it, as he told
himself. He couldn't breach it because he was afraid of what would happen if he
Bush must have felt
his gaze because he looked back at Horatio, his eyes questioning. Horatio only
nodded a little and looked away.
He wished he could do
something else, say something - but he couldn't help it. He was afraid; afraid
of what could grow from something so small like a shared smile. He huddled
deeper into his jacket, pulling it around tighter.
Something sharp nicked
his hand. He winced a little, thinking at first that he scratched it against
some ornament on his jacket. But there was blood in his palm.
Holding his breath,
Horatio shoved his hand into the pocket - and there, under the lining, his
fingers touched a sharp, narrow length of metal. Fearing to believe his luck,
Horatio pulled it out.
It was a blade - a
self-made knife, narrow and with a thin, heavy handle. The blade was shining
and very sharp. How did it get there - he'd never owned such a thing...
And then a memory came
to him, a distant one - Matthews patting his side when saying good-bye to him,
in a quick, strange gesture.
Oh what a fool. Of
course the man had slipped him this weapon, so that his Captain did not go to
his enemies armless. And Horatio had failed to guess it.
If he'd found this
blade earlier, before their attempt of escape - would have it changed anything?
Horatio ousted this thought with an effort. Regretting about the past meant
wasting time, the time they could spend planning the future.
His lieutenant man came up to him, his eyes lighting up as he saw the knife.
"Perhaps we have a better chance now," Horatio said softly.
* * *
Three weeks had
passed, but nothing changed in their situation. Was the Hotspur back? Did
Linsford strike the deal for Youssef? And what about him and his men? They were
not going to leave them rot here forever, right? Horatio was growing restless.
This forced immobility was so hard to bear that sometimes Horatio felt dizzy
The door opened widely
for the first time in weeks, and finally Youssef came in, blinding them with
his smile in his usual manner.
"Long time no see.
Is everyone in good health? No good news for you, though, Captain, I'm
afraid," he continued before Horatio could say anything. "It seems
your English people have cheated. No ship coming."
"Maybe it is your
good friend Linsford who cheated?" Horatio said in an icy voice.
Youssef was right -
there were more important things than Linsford.
"And so what now?
Are you going to kill us?"
Youssef smiled again. "Did I not give you my word? Besides... what a waste
it would be, to kill fine English seamen for nothing? I suppose I can make a
good bargain on you."
negotiate with you over our lives."
"Ah, Captain. But
I didn't mean England."
And that was when
Horatio understood that it was now or never. Youssef stood there, hands buried
in his wide sleeves, smiling - so sure everything would be as he decided.
Horatio jumped up onto
his feet, unwound like a tight spring, the blade in his hand - pressed to the
man's jugular - and no matter how well Youssef controlled himself, Horatio felt
how the man shuddered, feeling the cold steel touching his skin.
"You said once
your commander didn't value your head so much," he said, still somewhat
bitter at being deceived them, on the Hotspur. "Let's see now exactly how
much *he* values it."
The bandits who
accompanied Youssef looked quite indecisive, glancing from their commander to
the sailors who already gathered abound them dangerously. For a moment Youssef
was silent but Horatio already knew the man wouldn't want to die. He said
something in his language and the men put down their weapons.
"What do you
want, Captain?" Talking against the blade was likely inconvenient - his
voice sounded stifled. "You don't really think you will get away, do you?
Even if you make out of here - where shall you go? We'll hunt you with
"You didn't leave
us much choice, did you?" Horatio asked quietly.
He felt Youssef perk
up somewhat, his voice insistent, convincing.
"And if I do? If
I give you my word that we will..."
"What? Let us go
home?" Horatio asked angrily.
Home... did he still
have where to go? Horatio hadn't wanted to think about it, forbidden himself to
admit how much it bothered him. Even if he got back to England, what waited for
him there? A court marshal for failing his duty and abandoning the ship? And
did Linsford fulfill his threat, about the newspaper?
"Let us go,"
he said. "Or by God, I'll kill you."
An Youssef must have
felt it was true because he didn't bargain any more, giving the orders to his
men in a dry, snapping voice.
They were followed
with silent gazes, the men around them gloomy but no one made a move that would
endanger their leader's life, even when Styles and others yanked the guns out
of their hands.
The brightest light as
they came out of the house was a shock to Horatio, and only a few moments later
he realized that they were lucky they hadn't attempted their escape by day. It
was a sunset, the sun nearly gone - otherwise they probably would be caught
blind like moles there.
The smooth handle of
the knife was slick of sweat in his hand. He'd felt full of nervous energy in
the beginning but now weakness was catching up on him. Horatio thought he had
to expect it.
gates," he ordered. "And no one is to follow my men. It is your life
on stake, remember."
Youssef gave him a
look and repeated the orders. The gates opened, and Horatio clasped the knife
He knew he wouldn't be
able to drag Youssef with them to keep the others from chasing them. He was
barely standing on his feet, it would slow them down too much. So, there was no
other choice, then. And had he truly believed that he could get away?
recalled Bracegirdle - the man so obviously was crushed with the loss of his
ship that, Horatio knew, had that shell not killed him, he would've found
another way to die with honor.
Sometimes it was the
only way out.
"You realize you
can't hold me like that infinitely," Youssef said very quietly, and for
once his voice sounded without his usual antics. "Ah so." Suddenly
understanding filled his voice. "So, you want to die, Captain. I
"You might die
with me," Horatio whispered.
"Ah, but you
don't believe it yourself, right? I cannot imagine you slitting my throat once
your men are out of danger. But I can tell you what, Captain. I'll grant your
wish. You'll die - since you free me from my word."
The gates opened, the
passage was free.
Styles was looking back at him, a question in his eyes.
"Run, what are
you waiting for?" Horatio yelled. "Run, you bastards!"
They did. And at the
same time Youssef's elbow slammed against his side, into his barely healed
wound. The pain was like a flash of black, dimming everything, making him
double over, distantly aware that the knife was wrenched out of his hand.
Horatio fell on his
knees - and heard the shots but his men were gone, none of them wounded or
killed. He smiled in relief.
"So are we going
to play another game now, Captain?" Youssef said, looking down at him.
There was a little trickle of blood on his neck and he rubbed it with his palm.
not." The voice was quiet, familiar, and Horatio felt enormous sorrow,
looking at Bush who pointed the gun at Youssef.
Damn him, why didn't
he run? How dared he not to, when Horatio ordered him?
"Oh, you're not
going to die alone, are you, Captain?" Youssef said, his smile a little
regretful. "Or is your friend aware of your suicidal plans?"
No, Horatio wanted to
cry out, seeing how Youssef suddenly made a step away. But it was too late. A
shot thundered - and Bush was falling, blood red like paint on his very pale
It can't be, Horatio
thought, it isn't happening. It shouldn't be. It seemed the grief that flowed
over him was so huge he couldn't take a breath, couldn't think about anything
but repeating these words. It can't be. It can't.
He knelt, paralyzed,
looking at Bush lying on the ground, the sounds of the cocked guns barely
registering at all.
I failed you so much,
William, he thought.
Youssef came up, looking
at him, and Horatio found himself dizzy with hatred - and yet he couldn't even
move to try to kill the man.
"Take him to the
cell," Youssef said. "Both of them."
Both? What was the
point, Bush was dead... Horatio saw them raise him, his head dangling. But did
his eyelashes tremble just a little?
There was blood on the
side of Bush's face but... but it was not an open wound, not like Horatio was
afraid to see. Could it be that the bullet just grazed him? Hope flooded him,
replacing everything else. Horatio heard his own breath, pathetically loud, the
sound suspiciously like sobbing.
"It is not my way
to shoot an unconscious man," Youssef said. "Tomorrow, when you both
are back with us, you'll die. Are you able to wait this long, Captain?"
There was an open
jeering in the last words, and Horatio suddenly felt clenching in shame. Hands
grabbed him, twisting his arms behind his back, and he walked, not resisting at
* * *
There was darkness in
front of his eyes, and in this darkness, pain was enormous and throbbing,
pounding against the walls of his skull. Bush moaned, and it hurt too, the
sound uncomfortably loud. Something cool and careful touched his forehead,
strangely relieving, and he moaned again, wishing to get more of this touch and
soft voice told him, familiar and yet almost unrecognizable in its gentleness.
Bush could barely believe it. He needed to see. But the eyelids seemed
impossible to raise. "Don't move."
Horatio... he didn't
let the name fall from his lips - but he knew, his body, everything of him
knew. It was Horatio's hand on his forehead, Horatio's voice calming him down.
He had to see. He
managed to raise the eyelids, at the price of worsening pain - and yet the
darkness around was just as thick and impenetrable as before.
Fear made him thrash,
dislodging the light palm, which Bush immediately regretted.
"Is it dark? Or
something... something with my eyes?"
dark," Horatio said.
He relaxed at once, realizing
suddenly that even though he was very cold, lying on the bare floor, there was
something warm under his head. Was Horatio holding him?
"You have quite
scared me, Mr. Bush," Horatio said. The voice sounded carefully neutral
but under this, there was something so strange that Bush strained to open his
eyes again, hoping to see at least something.
The darkness was not
complete, after all - from a narrow slit under the ceiling, some moonlight was
coming in. Horatio's shirt and face were pale white in it.
your jacket, sir?"
jackets." A small smile was evident in Horatio's voice. "Better safe
than sorry, they decided, what if I hid something else there?"
Bush chuckled at that,
and the sound came raspy, hurting his throat. He was so thirsty. He swallowed,
his saliva feeling ropy, but he supposed that asking for water would be futile,
if it was there, Horatio would've already given it. Yet he seemed to guess what
either," he said regretfully.
Right, Bush thought,
right. And then knowledge came to him, clear and simple, even though he didn't
know how he knew it.
"They want to
execute us tomorrow, sir?"
William," Horatio said.
away. At least I hope they did."
He closed his eyes
again, in relief. Another bout of pain came and passed, quicker than the
previous one. Strange as it was, the thought of his death in a few hours worked
miracle on his headache.
supposed to go. Why do you keep disobeying me?" Horatio asked in the same
quiet, mild voice.
Because I couldn't
stand the thought of living without you, Bush thought.
And now they were
going to die together... just how much better was it? He failed Horatio all the
"I cannot answer
this question," he said.
Horatio made a short
sound, half-discontent, half a chuckle, and shifted a little. Bush recalled
again he was lying against his lap. He pushed on his elbows, trying to get up.
"I think I want
to sit up," he said. "You must feel... inconvenient."
Horatio's hands were
careful and firm, helping him settle against the wall. Now Bush could see him a
little - a ghostly figure in the darkness, Horatio's arms wrapped around his
knees in a childish pose. His eyes were very dark but there was no way to see
the expression in them.
"I'm sorry it had
to come to that, William," he said, his every word deliberate, very
careful. "It is my fault."
Sorry... Bush recalled
suddenly what that bastard Youssef said, the words he hadn't had time to think
about then. Did Horatio really want to die?
This thought was so
painful, more painful than even the knowledge that Horatio would be executed
He wanted to die...
sir," he said. "None of it is your fault. I would..." He wanted
to say that he would rather die with Horatio than live without him - but how
could one say a thing like that aloud? "If the others are free," he
said instead, "it is because of what you have done for their sake."
for..." Horatio started and then stopped abruptly, and Bush felt his heart
clench with the pain sounding in this voice. He would die tomorrow, Horatio
would die - and now he still didn't know peace, and he, Bush, couldn't do
anything for him. "I'm sorry," Horatio added, his tone changing
forcibly to a softer one. "It's no use to argue about these things. Not
now. I don't want us to go like that. I'm... I'm grateful to you for
It seemed he wanted to
continue - but no words came, and Bush just looked at him - he could see
Horatio's face clearer now - so pale, his eyes so dark.
So young... so
vulnerable. They would kill him tomorrow.
"The moon has
risen fully, hasn't it?" Horatio asked.
He nodded; there was
little he could say and the words seemed to hurt.
"You have blood
on your face," Horatio said. "I'm sorry I cannot do anything for
"As you did for
me," Horatio added. "I..." He stopped again, and then continued,
in a careful, quiet voice. "Mr. Bush... William... I wanted to ask. Then,
when I was delirious - did I... did I say or do something that can be
So, that was it, Bush
thought. Regret filled him with an overflowing wave. His crime, his memory, the
most precious that he had, his stolen kiss - that made him touch his mouth
secretly since then, as if making sure it had happened - now he was called to
answer for that.
But at least he could
answer it in such a way to put Horatio out of his worry - at least it was the
only thing he could do.
Nothing that I remember about."
He'd be damned if he
let Horatio feel defiled, because of the moment that didn't mean anything for
him... that meant everything for Bush.
There was silence -
was this answer enough for Horatio? Bush couldn't bring himself to look up.
remember," Horatio said softly. "I asked you to kiss me."
It felt like a stake
slamming in his chest, and Bush clenched his fists, fingernails entering his
palms deeply, his teeth sinking into the inside of his lip. He remembered... oh
God. Oh God. He thought he would lose Horatio in the morning... but it looked
like he would lose him right now.
Next to him, Horatio
shifted a little, sighing softly.
"I'm sorry, Mr.
Bush. I'm sorry for imposing my will on you."
It was not what
happened! For a moment Bush couldn't believe what he heard. Did Horatio blame
himself? How could he? When the fault was his, when it was him who wanted it so
much, even a caress that didn't belong to him, that he went for it immediately
as soon as it was offered, not taking into account the situation, Horatio's
"Don't be sorry,
sir," he said. "It's me who had done it."
Horatio looked at him,
he could feel it - and Bush could barely stand this gaze, even though he knew
his face was as dim to Horatio as his to Bush. But he had to stand it. He had
done it - and he had to take the blame. "You wanted it, then?"
Horatio asked very softly. And there was only one way to answer that.
"It was the
happiest moment of my life, sir," he said. "Even though I shouldn't
Horatio said, shifting, his long legs and arms untwining as he changed his
position - and now Bush could see him kneeling in front of him, his face very
close. "William, would you mind if I..."
His long fingers touched
Bush's cheek, carefully, like he was touching something frail or precious - or
like he was leaving Bush every chance to lean away from this touch. And when
Bush didn't, Horatio's hand lay on his face, turning it - a begging,
His breath was taken,
and he reached his hand too, touching Horatio's face, the roughness of stubble
on it - and felt a gasp coming from Horatio, like it wasn't something he
expected - but the touch of the long fingers against his face became stronger,
"I would like...
if you..." Horatio whispered, and then they both were on their knees,
reaching to each other, the touch bolder, both Horatio's palms cupping his
face, and Bush couldn't resist, letting himself do what he wanted so much but
thought it impossible. His hands plaited through Horatio's hair, combing
through it, until getting caught into the ribbon holding his ponytail.
The word was just a breath - and it sounded so surprised and relieved - and
then their mouths locked, Horatio's hands still holding his face while Bush's
palms roamed, touching the curly hair, the smoothness of the temples, hard line
of the jaw.
The kiss was stunning
- so strong, so sweet, so much bolder than their first, and Horatio's lips were
burning against his mouth, his tongue sweeping against Bush's, and he almost
forgot how to breathe, breathing was distracting, he wanted to feel and to
remember nothing but every tiniest detail of this kiss, nothing more.
Their lips parted
finally - but Horatio didn't let go of his face, his temple pressed against
Bush's, and Bush could feel his chest heaving, so close, could hear his speeded
different," Horatio whispered, a shiver going through his body.
Different from what?
From his wife? But these words became a strange absolution for Bush, and he let
his hands slide lower, to Horatio's shoulders, pushing his shirt open.
"Let me show
you," he whispered.
hitched - but he didn't lean away, instead pushing into Bush's touch, and his own
hands came alive again, fumbling with Bush's shirt, hastily and awkwardly.
Bush felt tiny shivers
going through Horatio's body as he passed his hands over his chest, spreading
the shirt open. He leaned forward, kissing Horatio's neck, and he raised his
head, giving the better access, his vein pulsing under Bush's lips with wild
speed. He held Horatio, supporting him, and it seemed necessary, as Horatio
sagged slightly - and yet kept pushing towards Bush's lips trailing down his
"I think... William,
I think I'm dying," he whispered, a hitch in his voice, something like a
small sob. Bush kissed his nipple, and Horatio's gasp was surprised, frightened
and delighted, and this sound for a moment was too much, so much that Bush had
to stop. Then Horatio's fingers plaited through his hair, and he knew he was
Horatio's body was
vibrating with tension, his breath hoarse and hasty, and Bush kissed him,
lower, careful not to bother the bandaged wound, coming down to the waist of
his trousers and feeling how Horatio went rigid in his arms.
"It will be all
right," Bush whispered. He could feel the hardness of Horatio's cock under
the cloth, straining, needing for a touch - and yet if Horatio wasn't ready, he
wouldn't go further. For a moment there was a pause, and Bush didn't move - and
then Horatio's answer came in a mere whisper.
He pushed the
fastenings apart, kissing Horatio's abdomen, the darkest curls of his pubic
hair. Horatio's hands were clenched on his upper arms, painfully hard, and Bush
knew he didn't even notice it - he just needed something to hold onto.
He wrapped his palm
along the tall, straining shaft loosely - and the enormous shiver running
through Horatio's body seemed to resound through him.
Horatio said in a small voice. "Ooh yes, please..."
Bush smiled, leaning
down, taking the wet head into his mouth - and it was really all it took. In
the next few seconds it was over, Horatio shuddering and Bush's mouth filling
with warm, thick liquid.
A soft cry broke from
Horatio's lips, hushed against his own palm, and then exchanged into smaller,
softer sounds, like broken breaths.
Bush whispered, rising, catching him. There was no resistance in Horatio at
all, as he leaned against his chest, and the soft sounds hushed, just little
shivering stayed, going through his body. Horatio's cheek was pressed against
his, warm and moist.
Bush held him,
silently, his palms on Horatio's shoulder-blades, just stroking softly - until
Horatio shifted, pressing him nearer, for a moment, before slackening the hold.
said in an apologetic, slightly smiling voice. "I'm such a mess, what's
come over me?"
What had he done to
himself, Bush thought, sorrow and gentleness filling him, that such a small
thing could have broken him? How unfair it was... Horatio deserved so much
more, deserved happiness, and safety, and content. And it was not meant to be.
Bush felt Horatio's
fingers, careful, touch his mouth, stroking it.
"Will you let me
too?.." Horatio said. And then his hands were back, pushing Bush's shirt
open, the touches suddenly bold, hungry, exploring him by touch, tracing his
ribs, fingertips probing the scar on his midriff.
And with the same
determination, Horatio pulled the fastenings of his trousers - and there it
was, a warm, rough palm lying on Bush's cock.
He shivered, his body
melting into this touch - and then he felt Horatio reach down, no hesitation at
all. So much like him, Bush thought. So bold in everything... He stopped Horatio's
motion, pulled him closer, just his hand over Horatio's, showing in a gesture
what he wanted.
He felt Horatio's
mouth finding his, lips open, pressing against his lips, their tongues clashing
- and the palm slid over his cock, tight and gentle, and he felt his legs
giving in under him, as the pleasure spread through his body.
He gasped, coming, and
Horatio's hand didn't stop, and the pleasure went on and on, and Bush slumped
against Horatio, weak, and felt the solid support of Horatio's body against
there," Horatio whispered. "Oh William."
Horatio held him,
tightly, their bodies pressed together, and that was why Bush felt an awkward
motion of his. I've come into his hand, Bush recalled. And he doesn't know what
to do with it. But before Bush could do something, Horatio wiped his hand
against his trousers, and he still wasn't letting Bush go.
strange," Horatio said, his voice soft and somewhat bewildered. "I'm
right," Bush whispered, his lips against Horatio's temple. "It's all
They lay together,
touching, and then Bush felt Horatio's mouth press to his, and the tongue
lapped softly against his as he could feel quiet, steady rise of Horatio's
chest pressed against his.
* * *
In the narrow beam of
light Horatio's closed eyelids were perfect semicircles, his eyelashes seeming
enormously long. His face was peaceful, except for the big mouth compressed in
a tight, sad line. Bush looked away quickly, trying not to wake him up with his
He didn't know how
much time passed but he thought that every moment of it, of Horatio's thin hot
body pressing against his, Horatio's breath brushing against his neck, was
etched in his memory. He didn't want to think about anything else. But how
could he not?
They would kill
Horatio. Soon they would come for them.
The noises came, the
sounds of the morning Bush had never paid attention to before. But now every
one of them meant that the time was running short. Horatio shifted, his eyes opening,
and for a moment there was such a sweet, unguarded expression on his face - the
expression that always had surprised Bush on the Renown but after that he
hadn't seen it for a long, long time. It was gone quickly, Horatio's eyes
serious and dark.
"Are they coming
said. Horatio sat up, rubbing his forehead, as if with headache. Bush wanted to
kiss this hand, this face, just one more time.
"Do you think
anyone of ours managed to get safe?" Horatio asked, his face still half hidden
behind his hand.
"I think they
did," he said quietly. "Styles certainly did. Nothing's tougher than
Horatio chuckled distractedly.
They both felt silent.
Horatio must have needed a few moments for himself, Bush thought, and he was going
to do everything to give him this time. He told himself he wouldn't wonder if
Horatio felt regrets over what had happened a few hours ago. As selfish as it
sounded, he'd rather not to know, he thought.
He just hoped he
hadn't made Horatio feel worse about himself.
They heard steps, and
Bush tensed, anxiety coursing through him, scalding hot. Was it the end? He
didn't even know if they'd let them out of the cell or shoot them right there.
He wanted to fight, to do anything to make it more difficult for the bastards -
but he knew it would be futile, all he could do was to die with honor.
He saw Horatio look
up, his gaze dark and unbearably intense - and then the steps withdrew. But
Horatio continued to look at him, with the same intent, strange expression - as
if he wanted to say something.
And then Horatio shook
his head, loose strands of hair falling over his face, hiding it, and the words
that came were small and quick, as if he was both afraid of saying them and not
"God... I so
don't want them kill you, how could I do it to you..."
And at this moment
Bush understood he couldn't bear it, most likely they would never have another
chance - and he reached, holding Horatio, pulling him closer, even if just for
a short while, even if it wasn't enough comfort at all - and felt Horatio lean
into this embrace.
The bolt on the door
jangled, rising, and he let Horatio go, not wanting anyone to witness their closeness.
Was it going to be the shots coming right from the door?
A figure in the
ragged, flowing clothes, much like Youssef and his men used to wear, barged
into the cell - and then the facecloth was yanked down, and Styles' grinning
face was looking at them.
"Yes sir, bet I
surprised ya," Styles announced. "Let's get out of 'ere."
The shots sounded
above them, and yells, and Styles' didn't look idiotically happy any more but
focused and calm, taking out one - two, three pistols from the depth of his
ragged clothes. Two of them he gave to Bush and Horatio and one clenched in his
They ran, Styles shot,
one of the bandits falling dead on their way, and finally they were outside -
and there were more shots, and incredulously Bush saw Matthews there, and
others, who had been left on the Hotspur.
But there was no time
to think, he shot, and saw a man falling, grabbed his gun and shot again. With
a corner of his eye Bush saw Horatio fighting another man, his expression focused
and merciless, as always in a battle.
He saw something else
- Youssef standing in the doorway, a pistol in his hand, aiming at Horatio.
Bush shot, without
thinking, and saw the man fall back, the pistol knocked out of his hand. He
wasn't dead probably, Bush thought distantly, as there were men running to
Youssef, dragging him away - but it didn't matter now.
He parried the blows
and shot again - and saw Styles' next to him - and the gates were open, their
Horatio shouted, his eyes sparkling, blood on his cheek.
And by God, this time
Horatio was going to go too.
* * *
It was good to shave
and be dressed cleanly again. It was good to be alive. So good that Horatio didn't
try to hide a smile turning the corners of his lips up. Deep inside, he had
this triumphant, delighted feeling that made him wanted to touch his ship to
make sure it was there, stroke the rails and warm wood of it, but of course he
couldn't afford it - at least until he was in his cabin alone.
And now he looked at
his men standing around him.
"I could have
expected such reckless actions from Mr. Orrock - but from you, Mr. Prowse? You
are full of surprises." He knew by their smiles getting wider that his
words didn't deceive anyone. They looked anything but chided - but Horatio
couldn't say he minded it.
sir," Orrock said, "Master Prowse was the most amazing in it
Horatio nodded, "yes. I know it."
Under his gaze, Prowse
grunted in embarrassment and tried to avoid everyone's eyes - which was hardly
"Sometimes we all
do something stupid," he muttered.
Horatio caught an
amused, content expression on Bush's face - that seemed to mirror his own
he said, seriously. "Thank you everyone. What you have done - it is
difficult to describe how much it means for me."
They sighed shyly and
then Orrock said:
"At first we
believed him, sir. But Matthews, he... he kept saying..."
Kept risking being
punished, Horatio thought, kept talking about not trusting Linsford, even
though Orrock and Prowse, no doubt, made him stop many times.
But finally they
listened to him and... He still could barely believe the risk his crew had
taken for him - the risk that could put all of them on the gallows.
"We cornered him
and he admitted everything, in the end," Orrock said. Horatio didn't want
to wonder what means they used to make Linsford talk. But it worked, indeed.
They put Linsford to
the hold and turned back for Morocco, kept out of sight from ashore and sent
boats trying to figure out the way to free others. And when Styles and others
managed to escape yesterday, they got right into the welcoming hands of their
And this morning the Hotspur
appeared on the horizon, serving as a distraction, while his men managed to
infiltrate into the bandits' camp and free them.
As they climbed up to
the deck of the Hotspur, finally out of danger, it seemed every hand on the
ship, in their delight, had to pat him and Bush on the shoulders, and Horatio
didn't mind, smiling and even enjoying the attention. It was good to know that
everyone was alive and safe.
It was good to be
Yet there was one more
matter unsettled - the one Horatio couldn't put away, no matter how he wanted
The room where
Linsford was held was the dampest part of the hold but Horatio couldn't rouse
in himself any disagreement against it. The man looked gaunt, his clothes torn
and soiled. The ribbon holding his hair was gone, and it spilled over his
shoulders, lank and greasy.
red-rimmed, focused on Horatio with hatred - just a shade of his usual
oppressive expression. Horatio still felt intense loathing towards the man,
even though he told himself Linsford was defeated now, crushed - he could've
been more generous about him. But he didn't feel like being generous at all.
twisted in a grimace of utter contempt, like he was looking at the most
disgusting sight in the world.
victorious Captain returns to his ship. What an occasion for celebration."
From above, the excited voices of the sailors reached them. "No matter
that all this Captain managed to do was foolishly get himself into
He was doing what he could
best, Horatio thought - hurting. Trying to get to the vulnerable spot and hit.
He saw Linsford watch
him avidly, for any sign that his words reached the aim - and then said
quietly, in a confiding, deliberate voice.
stones, Mr. Linsford."
Anger flared in the
man's eyes but he managed to control himself.
"Oh, but they
won't be sticks and stones in the court marshal, will they, Hornblower? Do you
think you won't go there, for losing your ship, for wandering who knows where
marshal will also have a few questions to you as well," Horatio said.
"And I'll tell
them, be sure I'll tell. I have connections, Hornblower, such as you can't
dream about. I'll see you in such disgrace that you'll miss Youssef's dingy
cell. No, I'll see you hanged."
see," Horatio said.
And yet a part of his
mind was not so calm. Horatio wished he could believe that the truth would be
accepted and Linsford would be punished as he deserved. But he knew it didn't
always happen like this.
If only he could find
a permanent solution. If the man was dead... now Horatio could challenge him,
could he not? He knew Linsford would jump at the chance, so sure in his skills.
And yet... something
in Horatio protested this idea. Linsford was a bastard, and Horatio had to kill
men who were innocent of anything except for being born in another country. But
the duel... it would be like getting back in time, like it had been then, with
Simpson... He had to find another way.
"You will grieve,
Hornblower," Linsford said, his voice having complete, utter certainty in
it. Horatio knew it was manipulation, of course, but even so his heart
clenched. "Oh how you will grieve."
And even though he
said nothing else, Horatio couldn't help but think what those words could mean.
He knew Linsford couldn't have a way to know what had happened between him and
Bush - but... but Linsford could fling his accusations just as easily.
And Horatio couldn't
let it happen.
He knew it probably
was a weakness, he should've done his duty, should've faced what was in front
of him. But he couldn't. Not only for himself, although the thought of what
might happen made Horatio utterly sick, but for the others. His wife and... and
And as much different
as they were, and even though in his wish to protect them he was moved by very
different feelings, he still knew he had to do it for them.
He walked up to the
deck, called for Matthews.
sir," Matthews said, and Horatio knew the man understood what he was going
to do - and there was such non-judgment in his eyes that Horatio felt touched
nearly to tears.
The boat was ready and
Linsford was brought up, wincing in the bright light.
"What are you
going to do, Hornblower? Drown me?"
"It's your choice,"
Horatio said in an even voice. "You can go with us to England, and then
we'll see whose word will be believed. Or you can go now. It is up to you."
He decided that he
would deal with either choice. If Linsford decided to stay and bring charges
against him - well, he would fight them best he could. But he wouldn't let the
man rule his life with fear.
"Yes, stay and
have you poison me, on the way back? Or starve to death?" Linsford asked
Horatio heard his men
grunt in exasperation.
"If we wanted to
poison you, we would already..." Orrock started and Horatio stopped him
with a sign.
"So, what do you
For a moment Linsford
looked at him, biting his lip, and then said, his voice threatening:
"I'll leave. I'll
leave but it's not the rest you heard of me, you sodom..."
word," Horatio said, "and I will shoot you. And it will give me a
deep satisfaction," he added softly.
Linsford glared at
him, swallowing anything he wanted to say, and walked to the boat, crawling
down into it heavily.
There was silence as
he rowed away. Horatio stood on the deck and watched him, and the others
followed the boat with their eyes. Then Matthews finally cleared his throat and
"I can hardly
believe it, sir, but the air's got definitely clearer."
Horatio didn't answer.
He looked at his men, Styles with a wide smile on his face, Orrock frowning and
tense, and Bush, his eyes screwed a little against the sun, his expression
wistful. Horatio wished he could say something, explain, but he never could,
and then he knew it was unnecessary. They all understood.
cleared his throat as well - must've been catching it from Matthews - and said,
turning to Bush:
"All hands to
stations, Mr. Bush. We are going home."
And he heard the man's
low, strong voice repeating his order.
"All hands to
They were already
sailing when Styles' voice caught him, from the aft, excited and impatient.
"Sir, sir, look
Horatio took out his
Linsford's boat had
reached the shore, small waves lapping against it lazily. And next to it, face
in the sand, almost as Tucker had laid weeks ago, Linsford lay, wind stirring
his dirty blond hair.
Youssef's men probably
hadn't recognized him, Horatio thought. Or on the contrary, recognized him too
He wondered whether to
tell Bush about it - or was it better to leave Linsford behind, never recalling
him. But the choice was taken out of his hands as he heard Styles' voice,
"Sir, sir, come
here and look, he's dead, they killed him!"
* * *
"You wanted to
see me, sir?"
The word was soft and
for a moment Horatio kept standing at the table, his fingers touching some
papers as if in contemplation. Then he turned and looked at Bush.
It was dusky in the
cabin, the light of the day almost gone, and in it Horatio's eyes seemed even
darker than usual, his face pale and tired. He looked young; he looked
thoughtful. And the absent way of addressing - Bush had noticed it. He stood
and waited, for what could follow.
They were three days
in the sea by now, going back to England, and the storm that caught him right
after they'd left Moroccan coast nearly ruined the Hotspur. Only now they were
finally safe, enough to have a moment of peace.
And was it why Horatio
called for him now?
Bush knew it had to
be. Since their return to the Hotspur there hadn't been a minute while they
stayed alone or could think about anything but the safety of the ship. But
sooner or later, this conversation had to happen. Bush just didn't know what
exactly it would be.
Was Horatio regretting
what happened? Was he disgusted with it? Was he willing just to put it behind
him and never to mention?
Whatever it was, Bush
knew he would do anything to make it easier to Horatio. He swore in it. What
had happened then, in Youssef's cellar, was the best thing that happened in his
life and he was endlessly grateful to Horatio for it. Even in his mind, he
wouldn't demand anything more.
He would do anything
not to burden Horatio, not to use Horatio's kindness against him.
Horatio repeated, raising his chin. The gesture was resolute - but for Bush it
suddenly screamed such insecurity - such confusion - that his heart clenched in
sadness. Whatever Horatio tried to brace himself for, it didn't come easy to
him. And God, how vulnerable he looked.
I have to help him,
Bush thought, I'll do anything for him.
"Did you want to
talk, sir?" he asked quietly. It was a proper question, a safe one, but at
the same time it didn't push Horatio further than he wanted to go.
in Horatio's eyes briefly and then he nodded. His lips were compressed in a
"I want to.
Yes." And yet there was nothing more to come.
I'm sorry, Bush
thought. I'm sorry you have to go through it. It was unbearable to look at it.
He had to take it in
"Is it about...
what happened on the shore, sir?"
He saw Horatio's eyes
flash, his lip bitten, and his look was so guilty and uncertain that Bush was ready
to do anything to protect him.
"Because we don't
need to talk," he continued. "If you want it to never be mentioned
between us again, it will never be. Everything can be like before."
The last thing was
blunt, but he didn't know how else to put it to make Horatio feel safe.
"But if you
think, sir, that you won't feel comfortable with me serving on this ship, then
I... I understand it, sir," he finished awkwardly. Oh how kind of him. If
Horatio couldn't bear looking at him any more - he 'understood'. But he'd
already said it, didn't find a better way.
Horatio stood in front
of him, leaning back slightly against the edge of the table, and Bush saw him
shake his hand, rub his forehead tiredly. Horatio's voice was very sad as he
"Is it what you
And his name was
bitter and intoxicating to hear.
sir?" Did he wish to leave the ship, to never see Horatio again? Did he
wish to stay and look at him every day, remembering and yet trying not to
remember? Of course he wished to stay. Even if never again Horatio's eyes
looked at him with kindness, even if there was always a wall between them.
How could he answer
anything but the truth at it?
"I will never
forget it, sir," he said quietly. "Neither I want to. But you don't
"Then why do you
think that I want to forget?"
Bush felt his breath
hitch. There were reasons, right? Because Horatio was going home, where his
wife waited for him. Because they were not going to die in the morning any more.
Because Bush knew how once feelings had already been forced onto Horatio and
how they weighed on him.
He didn't want to be
another her. He wanted Horatio to be free.
He felt Horatio look at
him but his vision hazed, Horatio's face blurring in front of his eyes. Yet
Horatio's voice sounded clear and quiet, every word striking him as deeply as
"I don't want to
forget. Only I don't know what to do about it." Bush heard him sigh. He
wanted to answer but he couldn't, his voice was gone. And then Horatio's words
lost their precision, became jumbled and stumbling. "How... how are these
things done? If, I mean, if you also want it, that is. I would never force you
into it, you know it. Just if you want. But I don't know how... it is
dangerous, I mean. I don't want to risk your career and besides..."
And then Bush just
couldn't bear it any more.
sir," he whispered, "I love you. You're breaking my heart."
And suddenly Horatio
made a step towards him - and they were so close - even closer, because Bush
felt a thin, long body pressing to him, Horatio's arms pulling him closer,
wrapped around him, Horatio's curly hair brushing against his cheek.
He didn't gasp - his
breath was taken, with incredulous feeling - and at the same time his body
recognized it, with unbearable delight, this closeness, these sensations,
etched into it forever. Horatio's head lay against his shoulder, and Bush put
his arms around him, holding him as tight as Horatio held him.
The beating of
Horatio's heart was strong and fast against his chest, and he could feel
Horatio's breath, hasty and soft.
"I missed it
so," Horatio whispered, his forehead pressed to Bush's shoulder. Bush
closed him eyes with the amazement and joy sounding in this voice. "I
thought I would never hold you again. I thought you wouldn't want me."
Oh Horatio. So strong
and brave - and yet such a child inside. Twenty-seven years old - he still was
a child, still didn't understand so many things.
I'll do everything for
you, Bush thought. Anything that I can. You are everything that matters in my
"We'll need to be
careful, right?" Horatio was saying, still not letting him go, his grip
very tight. "Shall we be able to?"
Bush said. "We shall be very careful."
It would work. Against
all odds, it had to work.
Horatio looked up, his
eyes dark, his hands still clenching on Bush's shoulders - but now there was a
smile on his lips, that sweetest, easy smile of his.
"Would you not
call me 'sir'... in here?" Horatio asked politely. "You can call me
by my name, William, you know." And when Bush paused for a moment before
answering, he added. "Do you think you can do it?"
And Bush thought this
smile reflecting in the dark bright eyes was the most beautiful thing he'd ever
seen in his life.
Horatio," he said. "I think I can."