by Nereus

This partly came from an A&E discussion a way back about
whether Hornblower would have asked Kennedy or Bush to be his First
Officer, supposing he had had the choice, and how Kennedy would
respond if he did. There is more to come in this universe...

Commander Hornblower, spending a rare evening at home with his wife,
could not help hoping that the knock at the door would spare him
from having to attempt conversation. He fully expected the caller
to be for either Maria or her mother who, with elephantine tact, had
taken herself to visit friends that evening. No one ever came
seeking him here, except for William Bush who would be fully
occupied aboard the Hotspur.

He was wrong, and could not quite cloak his reaction to the fair-
haired man in naval lieutenant's uniform. Fortunately Maria did not
seem to notice anything amiss.

"I thought you were stationed at Gibralter." The words came out
more sharply than he had intended.

"My ship was sent with dispatches,' Lt Archibald Kennedy replied
easily. 'We'll be in England for a couple of weeks. I thought I
should call on your wife while I was here."

Thus prompted, Hornblower performed the introductions. Maria
responded with a mixture of pleasure and diffidence, and made offers
of refreshment, which were politely declined. Kennedy extended a
small package and a warm smile.

"I hope you'll forgive the lateness of the wedding gift, Mrs
Hornblower, but this is my first visit to England since Mr Bush
wrote to tell me of the marriage."

The present was spoons, and from Maria's reaction Hornblower guessed
that they were finer than any she would have bought herself, but not
so much finer as to be an embarrassment. Typical of Kennedy to get
the social niceties right. He was handling Maria well, too,
answering her questions with no obvious constraint. Yes, he had
served with the commander and Mr Bush, in the Indies. Well, the
commander couldn't be expected to mention every man he'd served
with, and he would have more than enough to occupy him in the
present without bringing up the past. He turned the conversation as
soon as it was polite, drawing Maria out about her own life.
Hornblower couldn't help but remember how he himself had talked with
her during the days of the peace, finding in her domestic world a
welcome refuge from his lonely unemployment. He was surprised to
find himself mildly angered to hear her speaking easily to another
man, even if it was purely social politeness on both sides.

After perhaps half an hour Maria excused herself, saying she had
some sewing to do. Hornblower's attempt to persuade her to stay was
genuine, but she had plainly decided the two old shipmates would
want to talk alone. He expected Kennedy to speak first, but the
silence stretched out and he did not do so.

"I didn't know you and Mr Bush were corresponding." Why had he said
that? It hardly mattered.

"We're not, really," Kennedy replied. "He just wrote to tell me of
your marriage." With an attempt at lightness he added, "Perhaps he
wanted to be sure your wife did not miss out on a wedding gift."

There was a brief, awkward pause in which Hornblower found himself
looking anywhere but at Kennedy's face. "Well," he said
formally, "I'm sure you will want to be getting back to your ship.
Please do not let me detain you."

"Horatio." The breach of naval protocol was deliberate. "Are you
really going to abandon a decade of friendship?"

"I understood that you were the one who wanted to end it." He hoped
the words sounded calmer to Kennedy than they did to him.

"I said I didn't want to be your first officer. I never said I
wanted to stop being your friend."

"I suppose you thought you could do better than to serve on an
unrated sloop." He knew the words were not really fair, but he had
been hurt by the attitude Kennedy had taken. Hurt and disturbed, it
was the last thing in the world he had expected.

"With you in command I'm sure Hotspur will never lack for glory or
prize money." Kennedy paused, evidently trying to order his
words. "But that's the point. It would be you who earned it. I
can't spend my whole career riding on your coat tails."

"You never did," Hornblower protested.

Kennedy made an exasperated sound. "Of course I did. You take the
lead so well there was no chance of anything else. It's not
jealousy, Horatio, truly. Heaven knows you deserve everything you
earn. But how could I ever learn what I'm capable of for myself
under your command? It's different for a man like Bush, he's
learned to know his own strengths long since. I need to find out
what I can do without you there." He stopped, gave Hornblower a
bleak look. "You don't understand any of this, do you?"

"I know you did not want to serve with me." The words were colder
than he had meant them to be. "I will not dispute your sentiments."

"I'd do it if you needed me, but you don't. Bush will certainly do
as good a job as I could, and probably very much better." He paused
again, if Hornblower had been less concerned with controlling his
own expression he might have realised Kennedy was choosing his words
with unusual care. "Horatio, it could never be the same. The gulf
between captain and first officer is nothing like that between third
and fourth lieutenant. A captain has to stand alone, you *know*
that. It would be very difficult. Can't you see?"

What Hornblower saw was that the one man he had been quite certain
that he could rely upon at all times had not wished to serve under
his command. He was not angry with Kennedy, he told himself. He
had every right to feel as he did. If he did not wish to serve
under his friend of long-standing then the fault must, somehow, lie
with Hornblower himself.

"I wish you well for the future... lieutenant." He had tried to
say 'Archie' but the name would not come.

"Is that all, Horatio? All the years... is that all?"

The hurt and anger rose sharp and sudden. "As I understand a
superior officer should not be addressed by his first name."

Kennedy flushed. "My apologies - *Sir*." His jaw tightened in what
Hornblower recognised as a rare loss of temper. "I had thought you
might even prefer to retain a friendship that could be held apart
from rank. Plainly I was mistaken in my judgement." The tone was
cutting, Kennedy's talent for sarcasm had been legendary among the
more troublesome elements of Renown's crew. "Please convey my
regards to your wife. Goodnight. Sir."

Hornblower opened his mouth, but could not decide what he wanted to
say. "Archie-". It was too late, the door had closed, not with a
slam but with a decided snap. There was time to go after him still,
he started to rise but then sat back again. What good would that
do? They had covered it all. Twice now. More talk would only make
things worse. Yet it was a long time before he rose from his seat
and went to find Maria.

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