WORD COUNT: 1662
PAIRING, IF ANY: Horatio/Archie
SPOILER WARNING: Live Kennedy Universe
DISCLAIMER: Not mine
SUMMARY/NOTES: Exactly what it says on the tin. Timelines are as consistent as possible both with Hornblower canon and historical events; I put The Frogs and the Lobsters in 1795 at the time of the historical Quiberon invasion, not at the possible 1797 of the movies, and I'm assuming that Pellew broke off his affair with Kitty (one that's purely my headcanon anyway) when he got married in 1783.
Many thanks to my early readers for their encouragement.
“Look after him.”
As soon as he’d said it, Edrington wondered if he hadn’t been talking to the wrong man. Certainly, Hornblower was in great distress just now, with the girl shot dead at his feet... but what of Kennedy? His expression, when he’d seen Hornblower appear with the girl at his side, could only be described as stricken. Much became clear now; Kennedy’s hesitation had not been not the failure of nerve he’d thought it. Had that been the face of a lover betrayed, though, or simply one of a man who’d had his hopes dashed? In either case, Kennedy might stand in need of as much comfort as his friend.
Oh, indeed, he told himself. And you’re thinking you might be the one to supply it? How very generous of you, M’Lord. How altruistic. He shook his head. If Hornblower had not noticed Kennedy’s affection for him, he was singularly oblivious; if he had noticed, but left it unaddressed, he was a fool. And if he had returned it in kind, but dallied with the girl anyway? That very nearly went from foolishness to cruelty. Dangerous territory. Best not to rush in without scouting it further.
After dinner, he observed them speaking together. The way their fingers interlaced - yes, that was a lovers’ gesture, not merely one of friends. Kennedy’s face, too, had lost its earlier bleakness. Hornblower’s eyes were pleading; Kennedy’s, fond. They looked on the point of kissing, held back by caution, not by distrust. That settles it, he thought. You’d be a cad to come between them, assuming that you even could. No sense wasting time in regret; they’d be ashore soon, and the world did not lack for congenial company, either in petticoats or in breeches. He’d leave them to themselves, and wish them joy of it.
2. London, 1796
Kitty Cobham regarded Edward Pellew over the supper-table. Despite the warm candlelight in the inn’s private parlor, she could see new lines of care in his face. Their affair had been over these ten years and more, but they remained friends. He refilled her wineglass.
“You’ve made quite the name for yourself, with your string of French prizes,” she said. “Fairly covered yourself in glory, since I was your passenger!”
“No more than your theatrical accolades,” Pellew said lifting his glass to her. “And hardly myself alone. I had the support of an excellent squadron.”
“And an excellent crew, if I recall,” Kitty replied, raising her own glass and taking a generous drink. “Speaking of which... Ned, forgive me if I speak out of turn?”
“Kitty, when were you ever afraid to speak your mind to me?”
She chuckled. “A touch, I do confess it. But Ned, I’m quite serious. Those two young men of yours, Hornblower and Kennedy - promise me you’ll not notice any more than you must, about them?”
Pellew’s face broke into a grin. “Why, Kitty, I’d no idea you cared for them so well. Rest assured, I take full notice of their exemplary service and their unfailing courage; as for anything else, I have been most carefully failing to notice since they first came aboard the Indefatigable, back in ‘93. There are precious few secrets aboard a frigate, as I’d imagine there are few backstage --” Kitty snorted inelegantly at that -- “but I see no reason to destroy two able young men, merely because they hold each other in strong affection. They make every effort to be discreet. I’ll not tax them with it.”
Kitty sighed. “Thank you. I never spoke of it before, but I’ve known your Mr. Kennedy since he was just a lad, and I’d hate to think of any ill befalling him. And Mr. H, of course; I owe him a great deal.”
“I’ll look out for them, Kitty,” Pellew said. “You have my word on it.”
3. Renown, 1801
They were discreet, Bush had to give them that. A harder than usual task, in a ship as beset with suspicion as the Renown. No more than a brush of fingers, as one handed a cup to the other; no, it was all in their looks. He’d looked that way at Tom, once...
Damn it. He hadn’t thought of Tom in a long while. They’d been midshipmen together, all those years ago. Skylarking in the rigging, writing each other notes on their slates when they ought to have been giving their attention to cosines and tangents, that summer night of shore leave when they’d climbed a hill overlooking the harbor... until a battle that ended with Tom sewn into his hammock, two round-shot at his feet. He’d never wept for him. He’d been too stunned to weep, at first, and then - well, and then you just got on with things, because His Majesty’s Navy wasn’t going to stop for you.
From the looks of it, that pair had known each other since they were mids, too. And they’d made it this far, both alive. He couldn’t begrudge them any happiness they managed to find, in this madhouse of a ship, with its madman of a captain. He only hoped their luck would hold.
4. London, 1802
“It’s not natural,” Molly said, lifting her chin.
Mrs. Wilson fixed her with a scornful look. “Oh, it’s not, is it? No more is that clockwork spit-jack, girl, and I don’t see you offering to turn it with your own two hands!”
“It’s not the same thing,” Molly insisted. “Everyone knows it’s a sin.”
“And even if it is, who says it’s your place to pass judgement on your betters, missy? Leave that between them and their God.”
“Yes, and God is love, is he not?” Bridget chimed in.
“This is a working kitchen, not an idlers’ coffee-house,” Mrs. Wilson said firmly. “We’ll have no philosophical debates, and I’ll ask you to mind your tongues, if you don’t want to find yourselves let go without a character. The master and his friend treat each other better than many a man and wife I’ve worked for in my day; you won’t find either of them flinging the jam-pot at the other’s head across the breakfast-table! That’s more than good enough for me.”
Bridget nodded vigorously. Molly sniffed. “Well, if they intend to live as man and wife, I wish they’d not pretend we’re deceived about the matter! As if Mr. Hormblower’s job of mussing up his bedclothes of a morning would fool a child of five. All it does is give myself and Bridget another bit to do, as if we’ve not enough.”
“Now that, my girl, is another matter entirely,” Mrs. Wilson said. “I’ll speak of it to the master tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll see the sense of it.”
5. Buckinghamshire, 1803
“It must be dreadful, going off to war, with no idea when you might come home,” Anne said.
“Or if you’ll come home at all,” her cousin Jane pointed out. “There’s more to war than wearing dashing uniforms, you know.”
“I do hope Cousin Edward will be safe,” Anne said. “And Mr. Hornblower. Why, by the time they come home again, I might be out already! Perhaps there will be a ball, and I shall dance with them.”
“And don’t you wish you might,” Jane mocked. “You’ve only been in love with Mr. Hornblower since you were seven years old. It won’t do you a bit of good, you know; he’s in love with Cousin Archie.”
“He is not!” Anne said. “Two men can’t be in love with each other!”
“They certainly are,” Jane said. “You’ve only to see the way they smile at each other. But you were too busy hoping Mr. Hornblower would smile at you. He wouldn’t. He only ever smiles at Cousin Archie.” Anne sniffed, trying to look haughty. “Besides, why ever couldn’t two men be in love with each other?” Jane continued. “Some of the great girls at school certainly are.”
“That’s different,” Anne protested. “They’re just practicing for when they have husbands.”
“Oh, really?” Jane said. “Then why the whispers and the love notes and the little gifts?” She sighed. “Sometimes, Anne, I think you’re just not paying very close attention.”
1. London, 1806
“Why is everyone expecting me to dance?” Horatio said, as Archie pushed back his chair and arose from the card-table. “Even if I had any talent for it, which I don’t, I would hardly be disposed to do so, just days after conducting a state funeral.”
Archie lifted an eyebrow. “You’ve really no idea?”
“None at all.”
“Consider this,” Archie said. “You’re a naval captain and therefore a gentleman. You’ve just distinguished yourself, enough to earn the honour of conducting that procession. You’re rising thirty. And you’re unmarried. Does this suggest anything to you?”
Horatio’s expression combined dawning understanding with dismay. “No. Oh, no. They couldn’t.”
“I assure you, they most certainly could,” Archie said. “And they will. Unceasingly. Unless it becomes known that you’re entirely unsuitable, due to debt, perhaps, or an unreasonable number of natural children.” Horatio blushed at that. “Why do you think I spend most of my time at these affairs in the card-room?”
“I’d thought it was because you enjoyed playing cards,” Horatio said. “Despite your difficulty choosing the best bids at whist.”
Archie grinned. “You wound me, Horatio. A game of piquet, then? Or shall we find two others, so that I might prove to you how my skill has increased in your absence?”
“Piquet,” Horatio said. “And when you lose -”
“When I lose, Mr. Hornblower?”
“When you lose,” Horatio repeated, affecting that he had not heard the interruption, “I shall certainly give you the chance to reclaim your losses in another game. And by the time we’ve done with that, it should be late enough that we may take our leave without exciting comment. What say you to that?”
“Your grasp of strategy is as sharp as ever, Mr. Hornblower,” Archie said, signaling to a footman. “We’ll survive the battle yet.”