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“Glad to have you aboard, sir.”

“Thank you,” said Bush.

That brief exchange which constituted their first meeting aboard the Renown could not have given Bush the slightest warning of what was to come – indeed, had not given him any warning – nor could it have prepared him had it done so.

But now he looks back on it, Bush reflects that he might have seen the warning. It had been there in those dark brown eyes as he had turned on the quarterdeck, having been shown his way aft, to see Mr. Hornblower staring at him quite openly with what seemed to be an intense glare. Had Bush looked for it then he would have found his warning there, as he did now; but too late. Too late. He had not known that look for what it was back then.

He had come to learn in time. He saw that expression, that intense glare, many times throughout their voyage on the Renown. At first it had made Bush glare back, thinking himself some object of dislike; a toady of the captain’s to be distrusted. Then, after he had been admitted to the conspiracy with the other lieutenants, it had confused him – for if he was not an object of suspicion, then what was he? It was not until after Captain Sawyer had fallen down the hatchway, not until they were free of the deranged tyrant that Bush had been shocked to realise the true nature of that gaze; it was one of avarice, and he, William Bush, was the object of that avaricious desire. And just before they had set out to take the fortress at Samaná, Bush had seen that gaze directed at him again, and it had seemed to contain a promise.

Soon, it had said. Soon you will be mine.

Bush had met that gaze, and a cold shiver had run down his spine. Because Bush had a feeling that when the time came, as he was sure it would, he would not be able to resist.

It was after the successful storming of Samaná, before Hornblower had been made prize master of the Gaditana that the time came.

It had been in the dark of the Renown’s hold, where not that long ago the ship’s lieutenants had met to conspire against her captain. Hornblower had lured Bush down there with some pretence of inspecting the provisions, but even then the second lieutenant had known what the real reason was. He had followed Hornblower down, down into the bowels of the ship where none but the rats came for weeks on end, and there they had stood, facing each other in silence. In the dim light of the single lantern they’d brought with them, Hornblower’s dark eyes had glittered.

“Now,” he had said.

“Yes,” Bush had replied.

And Bush had submitted, because he had no choice. He’d stopped having a choice months ago.

Hornblower had stepped closer, his eyes triumphant as he ran his hands up Bush’s arms, admiring his new possession. Then he had kissed him; soundly, hard.

“You’re mine, William,” he had whispered against the other man’s lips.

“Yes,” Bush had replied, returning the kiss.

“No one else’s. Ever.”

“Yes.” Hands had twined in his hair; long fingers pulling him closer and working at his uniform buttons.

“All mine.”

“Yes.”

After that neither of them had been capable of words. Hornblower had caressed him, kissed him, covered what felt to Bush like every part of the skin of his chest and neck with his teeth and lips - Marks of ownership – and then the younger man had fucked him over one of the barrels, taking him, claiming him entirely as they had collapsed and lain together on the deck in each others’ arms having sated their passion, panting for breath in the hot, humid air.

Bush remembers that scene in the hold vividly now as he lays here in the Great Cabin of the Hotspur, spreading himself naked on the cold painted canvas floor as he comes under that gaze again, as his lord and master once more claims him for his own.

“Mine,” Hornblower whispers in his ear. “None but mine.”

And Bush knows it to be true.