"There now, Mr. Bush," Horatio said, when they were once again alone. "I told you it would all come out aright, did I not?"
Bush glanced at him from where he sat beside the porthole, politely pretending not to notice as the commander stripped off the outer layers of his uniform.
"You did, sir," he said, with characteristic reserve. "And I'm glad of it."
"You don’t look glad, Mr. Bush."
"Don’t I, sir?"
Horatio cast him a smiling glance, before beginning to wash his face in the basin. It was true that Bush did not look precisely droll; more like thoughtful, his distracted gaze drawn irresistibly to the scene outside the cabin window, though from what Horatio had seen, there was nothing more interesting out of it than there was inside, which was to say, nothing that ought to command such attention.
"You appear to be ruminating, Mr. Bush. Pray, tell me what is on your mind; it must be a weighty matter indeed which exercises your thoughts so."
"Nothing so significant. Only - if I may speak freely - "
"I had wanted to express my regret I was not chosen to accompany you on the landing party."
"Whatever for?" Horatio paused in the act of reaching for a towel and looked at his first lieutenant, not entirely sure this wasn’t a joke. "Don’t tell me you enjoy being tied up in storerooms and escaping through privies."
This time, Bush was sufficiently amused to give a reluctant laugh.
"Not at all, sir; you would be hard pressed to find anyone who does, I think. No, I was merely attempting to express my - displeasure at having to leave you and the crew behind. I would much rather have been one of the party left ashore than one of those charged with refraining from rescue."
Horatio dried his face carefully, laid the towel down and strode across the small space to join Bush at the porthole.
"You disapprove of the Admiral’s decision?" he asked. Bush looked away.
"I have the highest respect for Admiral Pellew, sir. But I did regret the necessity of leaving you behind."
"So much that you would rather have been left behind with me? Your loyalty is admirable, Mr. Bush, but Admiral Pellew made the correct decision, I think. It all turned out for the best, did it not?"
"Yes, sir. But I should hope - that is, you know it is more than simple loyalty which drives me to speak thus."
Horatio’s head came up, and he paused, uncertain how to respond, or indeed what his response should be. This was terra incognita, as so many things were to him that related to other men, the nice and intricate dance performed between human beings which society called friendship. And this particular friendship seemed to him more problematic than most, something he felt not the least bit suited for or deserving of. Fortunately, Bush could always be counted on to allay his confusion.
"We are friends, are we not?" he asked, catching Horatio's eyes with his own.
"I have so few of them,” Bush explained. “I should not wish to lose one if I could prevent it."
Horatio nodded, but his gaze was still on Bush’s face. For a moment, he felt, they were in complete accord, something he had not experienced with another human being since Kennedy died. He studied the familiar face; the lines around the eyes, the well-worn skin, and knew himself studied in return. The cabin was quiet save for their light breathing, and the breath of the ship around them.
"Nor would I," Horatio said, quite softly.
Bush made an impatient motion; seized by some impulse, he opened his mouth to speak, said, "Horatio, when I - " and stopped, catching himself, interrupted by the sound of voices and footsteps in the corridor outside. Styles entered without knocking, carrying a tray carefully in both hands.
"Here you go, sir," he said, cheerfully oblivious to the charged atmosphere of the room. "I’ve been working on my coffee, sir. I think you’ll find it easier to drink this time."
"Thank you, Styles. Set it down on my desk there, I will attend to it presently."
Both Bush and Horatio sat composedly as Styles obeyed this request and bowed his way, smiling, back out the way he had come. The silence prickled between them, made the more awkward - at least for Horatio - by his palpable desire yet abject inability to break it. At last, Bush stood.
"I shall leave you to your meal, then, sir," he said, and bowed, that courtly inclination of the head that Horatio had observed was peculiar to him alone. "Such as it is."
"Very well, Mr. Bush." He could say little else. It would not be proper for the captain of the ship to detain his first lieutenant from his duties, even if that man was also a friend. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to add, as Bush reached for the door, "Mr. Bush - if it is any consolation, I should much rather have had you at my side as well."
Bush threw him a sideways smile.
"Thank you, sir," he said, and left the room.