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William Bush Alphabet Soup

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"Mister Boosh, may I 'ave a word?" His back to the Frenchman for the moment, first lieutenant William Bush of the Hotspur closed his eyes briefly. What now?

Plastering a polite smile on his face, he turned to face Major André Côtard. "Yes, Major? How can I help you?"

"I wish to zank you for your assistance in ze recent action," Côtard replied, his expression uncharacteristically serious as he fingered the bandage that Matthews, the bo'sun, had wrapped around his upper arm. "Not many Englishman would 'ave done zat."

Bush tilted his head slightly. "You are a comrade in arms, Major, regardless of your country of birth. It was my duty to help."

"I zank you all ze same." Côtard offered a smile and extended his uninjured arm to Bush.

Nodding, he reached out to take the offered hand, stumbling when he was suddenly yanked forward and the Frenchman's mouth pressed against his. Before he could react one way or another, the kiss ended and Côtard disappeared from their berth. Left alone, Bush lightly touched his lips. Why did he wish the kiss had lasted longer?

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The naked yearning on Major André Côtard's face as he watched France disappear behind the stern of the Hotspur was almost embarrassing. First lieutenant William Bush glanced away before the Major turned and caught him watching him. Though, considering the kiss that Côtard had bestowed on him the previous evening, the Frenchman would probably be flattered to realize that Bush was watching him. In fact, the Major would probably take it as a compliment and try to kiss him again. Perhaps pet him a little, too. He shook his head briefly to clear it. He had Côtard on his mind far too much these days. He needed something else to think about. At that moment, a hand touched his shoulder and he turned to find Côtard at his shoulder, a smirk curving those French lips. "You are too serious, Mister Boosh. Smile."

"You are not serious enough, Major," he retorted calmly. "I have my duties."

He resolutely turned forward, doing his best to ignore the other man's presence. "You are not always on duty. You should enjoy zat time."

"I do enjoy it," Bush replied, keeping his voice low so the others on the quarterdeck wouldn't hear him.

He wondered if he imagined the ghost of a touch across his arse. "I see you later, Mister Boosh."

"Of course you will, Major. We share a berth." His comment hung unanswered in the air because Côtard had already left the quarterdeck.

* * *

Later that evening, when Bush arrived at their berth, Côtard was there to meet him, the same naked yearning on his face as had been there earlier in the day. William didn't avert his eyes this time. Instead, he stepped into André's arms and responded to his kiss.

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Now that he has taken that first step, William Bush is eager to take the next one, and the next. André Côtard is no less eager, his kisses wet and deep as they stumble against the bulkhead, shedding layers of uniform until all they're wearing is their breeches. Côtard is wiry and muscular with a light dusting of dark hair forming a triangle from his chest that narrows as it nears his navel and disappears under his breeches. Bush's hand follows that trail of hair, finding that the Major is very eager. Stifling a moan against the Lieutenant's shoulder, André's strong hands descend to William's narrow hips and pull them against his own, forcing him to stifle a groan of pleasure. Breathless, Côtard whispers, "Now, Mister Boosh."

"My name is William, Major," he whispers back, fumbling with the buttons on André's breeches.

He gasps with pleasure when his breeches open and a warm calloused palm takes him in hand. The smirk is audible in the Major's voice. "Mine is André."

"André," he moans, finally opening the other's breeches and slipping his hand inside.

"William," the Frenchman whispers, catching his lips in a hungry kiss.

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Afterwards, they swing gently in William's hammock, pounding heartbeats slowing and labored breathing calming. Bush gazed up at the rough plank ceiling as he held Côtard in his arms, absently stroking the loosened dark hair and muscular back and shoulders. André wasn't the first man to share his bed, but he was the first to bring out such fire and passion with so little effort. A single touch of a finger, a brush of the impudent mouth, and William's entire body seemed to catch on fire, needing Côtard to quench it in the end. He hardly noticed when his hands grew still, fingers digging into the muscular shoulders as he wondered if that was how it worked for Horatio and Archie. "Not so tight, William. I'm comfortable here."

"My apologies, André," he whispered against the Frenchman's hair, consciously relaxing his fingers.

He jumped when the uninjured arm moved, a big, warm hand stroking his side and lingering on his hip. "Perhaps you require more distraction."

"I thought you were asleep," William murmured, gasping as the calloused palm rubbed his manhood, causing him to harden.

Côtard shifted so they were lying on their sides, face-to-face. "Non. It iz difficult to sleep wit' you zinking so much."

"Perhaps you should go to your hammock, then?" he suggested, even as he pressed closer to the warm body of his lover.

A smirk curved those impertinent lips as he lifted his leg and draped it over Bush's hip, amply demonstrating that he wasn't as tired as the Englishman had thought. "Perhaps I should stay wit' you."

Burying his face in André's shoulder as pleasure shuddered through him once more, William gladly let the sensations sweep him away. He was tired of thinking.

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William stood with Horatio and Archie as André took his leave of them. "Thank you for all that you did, Capitane."

"It was the right thing to do, Major," Horatio replied, shaking the Frenchman's hand without hesitation, as if he trusted him.

Côtard nodded, barely wincing as the wound in his arm protested. "Admiral Pellew is right to trust you."

"He generally is right," Archie commented with a cheeky grin as he offered his hand to the taller man. "Except, of course, when he's wrong."

The others chuckled as André shook the second lieutenant's hand. "I will miss your sense of 'umour, Mister Kennedy."

"You flatter me," Kennedy retorted with an easy grin, though William thought he saw a flash of surprise in his eyes.

Finally, Côtard turned to Bush and the first lieutenant forgot about the other two for the moment, aware only of the hazel eyes that gazed into his. "I am sorry we were not able to do more for you, Major Côtard."

"You did enough, Mister Boosh." André replied, offering his hand.

William gave it a wary look, remembering what had happened more than once during the voyage back to England. Glancing at his captain and fellow lieutenant, Bush took the proffered hand, shaking it firmly. A sudden tug on his hand pulled him off balance and sent him stumbling into Côtard's arms. As he tried to balance himself without putting pressure on the Frenchman's injury, he whispered in William's ear, "Meet me at the Ferrault Inn when you are given your leave."

With help from the other man, Bush regained his balance. Meeting those hazel eyes once again, he nodded slightly. Returning the nod, André turned and left the cabin, leaving William to deal with the curiosity from his shipmates. Surprisingly, though, neither Archie nor Horatio asked him about what had just passed, for which William was extremely grateful.

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Upon William Bush's arrival at Ferrault Inn, he found André Côtard waiting for him. "Welcome, Mister Boosh. Thank you for coming."

"Not at all, Major," William replied, keeping his tone formal as the Frenchman gestured for him to follow and started up the stairs, presumably to the rooms. "I had nowhere else to go."

André glanced over his shoulder at the Englishman, hazel eyes glinting with amusement. "You wound me, Monsieur, saying that I am your last resort."

"Not at all," Bush answered, edging past Côtard through the door he held open. "If I'd had more time, I would have gone to see my sisters. They are my last resort."

The door closed behind the other man with a rather pronounced sound as William took stock of what would be his room for the duration of his leave. The furnishings were much more comfortable than he could ever have afforded on his own and the room itself larger than any he'd occupied on previous leaves. "You approve?"

"Indeed, I do." He turned to face his lover, his heartbeat quickening when he saw the impudent smirk curving André's lips. "Very much."

"Bon." Stalking forward, the Frenchman caught the Englishman about the waist and drew him into an ardent kiss. As William melted into the kiss, André murmured against his lips. "Très bon."

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William and André lay entangled with each other and the bedding as the lamps burned low. Various items of their respective uniforms formed a trail leading from the door to the bed. That alone was more luxurious than any William had ever slept in before, let alone anything more. He traced absent patterns on the hair-dusted chest under his cheek, still processing the intensity of the experience he'd just been through. "I told you before, William, you zink too much."

"It was beyond any experience I've had before," William replied, his voice quiet and thoughtful.

Laughter rumbled in the broad chest beneath him, a calloused and talented hand smoothing down his back to his buttocks. "You know 'ow to pay compliments, chéri."

"It's true," he protested, lifting his head to mock-glower at his lover. "With anyone else, it's usually just about the physical pleasure, though friendship makes it more enjoyable."

The impudent mouth curved up in a smirk, hazel eyes twinkling. "Before, it was fucking. Zis was making love."

"Are you sure?" William stared, his heart lurching in his chest.

André nodded, giving him a wounded look. "You would doubt a Frenchman on zis matter?"

"Oh, of course not." He offered a sarcastic smirk. "Far be it for me to doubt a Frenchman in matters of intimate relations."

Chuckling, André drew William's head down for a kiss. "You are learning, chéri."

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Early the following morning, William slipped out the front door of Ferrault Inn, bag in hand. Checking his surroundings, he hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and set off.

Archie was eating breakfast with his parents when Preston entered and leaned in to tell him that he had a visitor, "Lieutenant Bush is here to see you, Sir."

"William?" Archie glanced at his parents, silently asking to be excused.

They nodded and he rose to follow Preston to the sitting room. William stood by the fireplace, booted feet spread apart as if to brace himself against the rolling of the ship. A smile curved the older man's lips, but it didn't reach his pale blue eyes. "Thank you for seeing me, Archie."

"Anything for a friend, William," he assured him with a smile, hiding his worry. He'd offered his fellow lieutenant a room at his parents' home for the duration of his leave, but the other man had informed him that he already had accommodations. "Is something wrong?"

William glanced around, looking nervous. "Could we talk somewhere a little more private?"

"If that will help." His worry increased as he led William upstairs to his room.

While Archie closed the door behind them, William began to pace from the fireplace to the window and back again. "How did you know you loved Horatio, Archie?"

"What do you mean?" Archie sat down in one of the chairs by the fireplace.

The brunette remained on his feet, gazing out the window. "How can you tell when you're feeling love or lust?"

"Does this have anything to do with Major Côtard?" Archie asked shrewdly, remembering how William and André had acted when the Frenchman had said his farewells before disembarking.

Bush sighed and let his forehead rest against the windowpane. "I barely know him, yet he consumes my thoughts. How is that possible?"

"It could be simple infatuation or something more," Archie replied, trying to be reasonable. "You really won't know unless you give yourself the chance to find out."

Rueful pale blue eyes met earnest bright blue. "That may not be possible. I left before he woke this morning."

"Then go back to him and apologize for leaving." Archie suggested, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. Honestly, Horatio and William could be so similar sometimes!

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Feeling decidedly sheepish, William Bush returned to Ferrault Inn, finding André Côtard seated in the main room by the fire. He wore elegant civilian clothes and the Hotspur's first lieutenant was certain that whatever drink was in the glass in his hand would be alcoholic, expensive, and French in origin. Squaring his shoulders, much as he would before a battle, William walked over to sit in the other chair by the fire, stretching his booted feet out towards the warmth. After several minutes of quiet, he murmured. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" André asked, his voice clipped and flat, without the warm impudence that had annoyed, frustrated, and amused him so much. "Zere is much you could be apologizing for, Mister Boosh."

Shifting uncomfortably, disappointed to hear Côtard call him by his last name, he replied in a low voice. "For leaving this morning before you woke."

"As if you're ashamed," the Frenchman murmured, his eyes on the flames of the fire.

The Englishman glanced over at him, raising an eyebrow. "It wasn't shame that drove me to leave, Major."

"What was it, zen, Lieutenant?" André demanded, hazel eyes meeting pale blue.

"Fear," William answered simply, letting his honesty show in his eyes.

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André led the way up to their room with William following close behind. Once the door was closed and locked behind them, the Frenchman turned to the Englishman. "What is it about moi that scares toi?"

"Not you specifically," he admitted. "The feelings you bring out in me."

Côtard raised an eyebrow at the admission. "What feelings, Mister Boosh? Lust and desire should be old friends now."

"I cannot put a name to these feelings, André." William gave his lover an exasperated look. "They are not familiar at all."

Hazel eyes gazed at him intently. "Cheri, what do you feel wit' me zat is so different?"

"You consume my thoughts and haunt my dreams," he explained, not quite meeting his lover's eyes. "My only love has been the sea, since I was a lad helping my uncle in his blacksmith shop."

André drew closer, so close that William could feel the heat radiating from his big, muscular body. Yet they did not touch. "Et now?"

"Now I must face the possibility of having more in my life." Slowly, William lifted his hand to rest over the heart beating under the fine waistcoat and shirt. "That is truly what scares me."

Big, callused hands rested on William's shoulders, warm even through the wool of his uniform coat and the cotton of his shirt. "If you wish to continue zis, you must master your fear, Cheri. I know you can."

"That is not in question," he replied, finally lifting his head so pale blue eyes met hazel squarely. "What I am not sure of is whether I want to master this fear."

Côtard stepped back as if Bush had slapped him, briefly staring at him with shock and hurt in his eyes. Then the indifferent, infuriating mask appeared and smirk curved the impudent lips. "You will let me know when you are sure, oui?"

"You will be the first I tell," William assured André, wishing he could reassure his lover. But how could he when he wasn't sure himself?

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William reported to Archie when he returned from his shore leave, since Horatio was off ship at the time. The formalities dispensed with, Kennedy asked, "How did it go with Major Côtard?"

"Not as bad as I'd feared it would," he admitted with a wry smile. "Though not as well as I would've liked."

The second lieutenant gave him a sympathetic look. "If you'd like to talk with someone, you know I'll always listen."

"Perhaps once you are relieved," he replied, grateful for Archie's understanding and support.

Kennedy nodded his red-gold head. "It shouldn't be much longer."

"Thank you." Nodding, Bush went belowdecks to return his dunnage to the lieutenants' berth.

He noticed that Archie's sea chest had been returned to the berth now that Côtard was no longer traveling with them. William had just finished putting what dunnage he'd taken with him on his leave back in his own sea chest when his fellow lieutenant entered their berth. "Did you want to talk now?"

"Yes, now is fine." He closed his sea chest and perched on it, facing his friend.

Smiling, the second lieutenant perched on his sea chest. "I'm listening."

William proceeded to describe his encounter with the Frenchman. Archie winced more than once as the older man related his story, but the younger man remained quiet. Finally, he finished with, "I know I hurt André with my words, but I could not lie to him."

"You're as bad as 'Ratio in some ways," Kennedy commented after a few moments' silence. Bush stared at him, puzzled. "You cannot quantify or analyze emotions, so poor 'Ratio had no idea how to deal with them."

The first lieutenant considered that for a moment or two. "I take it that you showed him how to deal with them?"

"We dealt with them together," the second lieutenant answered with soft smile.

William arched a brown eyebrow. "So how am I as 'bad' as Horatio? I don't analyze or quantify things like he does."

"No, you don't analyze at all," Archie explained, leaning forward a little, as if trying to add weight to his words. "You're a good sailor, but you rarely think beyond that, do you?"

Bush had to admit that his friend was right. He had never been the sort to sit and ponder the world's secrets. He only wished to sail the sea and give his life to her. That was part of the problem, though. If he pursued this relationship with André, the sea would no longer be the only love of his life. Would he be able to love both?

He jumped when he felt Archie's hand cover his clasped ones. Lifting his head, William's pale blue eyes met the other man's piercing blue ones. "I'm sure you'll make the right decision in the end. Let me say this: love will always enrich our lives."

"Thank you, Archie." His voice was little more than a whisper.

"You're welcome, William."

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William lay in his hammock the evening after they'd left port, gazing thoughtfully up at the boards above. Archie's words reverberated through his head, both the ones about love and about the fact that he's not a thinker. He'd just never seen the use in pondering abstract concepts that had no immediate effect on his life.

Now, however, he was pondering an abstract concept because it would have an immediate effect on his life. The abstract concept in question was the concept of love. William was no stranger to love. He loved his three sisters dearly and he loved the sea. He hadn't thought that there might be room in his heart for more love. Then he'd met Horatio and Archie. Though he didn't love them as deeply as they loved each other, he was very fond of them.

Now he had met André Côtard and what he felt for the Frenchman was very deep and strong already, even though they'd known each other less than a month. Something about the Major had stirred William and brought out reactions in him so much stronger than anything he'd felt with other lovers.

The strength of these feelings and reactions had startled him and he'd wondered if he could love the sea and André. He also wondered if he should even try. As the gentle swing of his hammock lulled him to sleep, William again remembered what Archie had said to him: love will always enrich our lives.

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William Bush had never minded sailing in a storm. He relished it, in fact. The struggle to keep the ship afloat when the very sea seemed ready to drag her down was one he always enjoyed. Until this night, he'd never minded if he would be dragged to the depths or not. To be sure, it would have been hard for his sisters to lose him, but now there was another who would miss him if he happened to be lost at sea: André Côtard. Though they had not parted on the best of terms, William knew that the Frenchman would still mourn if he was lost at sea.

"Deck there!" Styles' shout distracted William from his thoughts. "Ship boat!"

Archie responded to the shout. "Where away?"

"4 points off the larboard bow!" Despite the driving rain, Styles pointed to indicate which way he meant.

They all moved to look in that direction, peering through the rain. "Couldn't be the Grasshopper's people, Sir. Not this far north!"

"Well, whoever they are, Mr Bush, we must go to their aid," Hornblower called back over the rain, having peered through his telescope at the boat they could just see struggling through the heavy surf. "Mr Kennedy, launch the quarter boat!"

The second lieutenant responded promptly, though Bush could have sworn he saw exasperation in Kennedy's eyes. "Aye-aye, Sir!"

"Mr Prowse! Take us to windward!" Horatio gave his next command without waiting for Archie to finish obeying the first one, not that they had time for that anyway. "Get her under our lee!"

The ship's master obeyed quickly. "Aye-aye, Sir!"

The first lieutenant watched from the ship as the quarter boat made its slow way towards the unknown ship boat, aware of the tension in his captain at his side. They both knew that even a capable swimmer was apt to drown in stormy seas. Hornblower could easily lose Kennedy to the sea this night. Bush wondered how either man managed with the constant threat of loss hanging over their heads. Not to mention the threat of Article XXIX. Still, there was no denying their happiness in being together, regardless of the threats to tear them asunder.

William was pulled from his thoughts when Horatio dove into the water to save the woman, who'd been swept into the sea by a wave just as she was attempting to climb into the quarter boat. Thinking quickly, he turned to address the men still on the ship. Before he could say a word, Jack Hammond stepped forward. "I can swim, Mr Bush."

"Good man, Mr Hammond." The first lieutenant gestured to one of the other midshipman. "Mr Orrock, come help me tie a rope around Mr Hammond."

"Aye-aye, Sir!" Charles Orrock worked with William to tie the rope around his fellow midshipman.

Once it was in place, Bush nodded to Hammond. "Just get the captain to hold on to you, Mr Hammond. We'll do the rest."

"Aye-aye, Sir." Jack nodded back and glanced briefly at the other midshipman before turning to dive into the water, striking out to where Hornblower was just reaching the woman.

The first lieutenant spared a moment to look for the quarter boat and was relieved to see that it had reached the Hotspur and Henry Wellard was helping their new passengers aboard. He returned his attention to the swimmers just as Hammond reached the captain. Once he was sure all three were safe, he gestured to the ratings waiting to pull them in. They nodded and began to haul on the rope, slowly drawing them in.

Archie was waiting with William by the time Horatio, Jack, and the strange woman had been safely pulled aboard. Though Hammond and the woman disappeared below without complaint, Hornblower resisted, "I'm needed here."

"No, Sir." Archie glared at his lover. "You've been pulled, dripping wet, out of the ocean and need to go below and warm up before you catch a chill. Mr Bush and I can manage without you."

"He's right, Sir." William wouldn't have dared talk back to any other man, but he knew Horatio and that he could be reasoned with. "You won't be any good as a captain if you catch a cold."

Glowering, the captain gave a harrumph and finally disappeared below. "Thank you, Mr Bush."

"You're welcome, Mr Kennedy." The two lieutenants carried on the business of steering the ship through the storm.

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William knew the man wasn't André Côtard, but the familiar accent made him forget, just for a moment. Then he arrived at the corridor where Horatio and Archie were speaking with their unexpected passengers, all of them bundled up warmly in blankets. "Non! Je ne suis pas français! I'm not French! My name is Joseph Billen. I'm from Switzerland. This is my American wife, Betsy."

"Bound for France, yet you claim to be Swiss," William commented dryly as he entered and shut the door firmly behind him.

His captain gave him a quelling look that didn't bother him at all. "Mr Bush!"

"Joseph's father is dying, Captain," Betsy explained, keeping her blanket drawn tight around her. "We were on our way to Switzerland so he could see me before--

Joseph took over the story, his accent not as pronounced as André's now that William could hear it properly. "He wants to meet Betsy. He wants to see us. It's his final dream."

"And you would risk this dream by leaving your ship and attempting to row ashore in a quarter boat in a storm?" Archie voiced this incredulous question, impatiently pushing damp red-gold hair out of his eyes.

When Betsy spoke up again, William wondered if all American women were so forthright. "I am to blame, Sir. Our captain refused to put in to Brest. I offered Maguire money."

"And you took it?" Horatio looked at the seaman, who'd remained quiet up to that point.

He gave them an apologetic look. "It was more money than I could refuse, Sir."

"And we'll offer you the same amount, Captain, if you'll take us ashore now," Joseph added this, no hint of guile or cunning on his face.

William exchanged a glance with Archie. Both of them knew no amount of money would persuade Horatio to attempt to take anyone ashore in this weather. Matthews entered just then, his clothes soaked through from the rain. Horatio addressed the bo'sun, "Mr and Mrs Billen will occupy the lieutenants' quarters."

"Aye-aye, Sir." Matthews didn't look terribly surprised at the news.

Horatio then looked at Maguire. "As for you, we've always room for another hand."

"I'm an American citizen, Sir," Maguire objected, not that any of them had expected less.

"Well, you're an able seaman in the Royal Navy until you can prove it." He turned his attention back to the couple. "I won't take your money, Sir, and until this storm has abated, you'll be going nowhere."

He left them with Matthews and headed to the captain's cabin with William and Archie close behind him. It was the second lieutenant who asked what they were both wondering. "Do we trust them at all, Sir?"

"We don't know enough yet, so we have to be cautious," Horatio explained as they entered the cabin, where his steward, Jameson, waited to help him out of his wet clothes, since he'd gone up to the quarterdeck in only his uniform. "Mr Bush, could you speak with Mr Prowse?"

William saluted. "Aye-aye, Sir."

He turned and left the cabin, not relishing going back out in the storm. He was surprised when Archie followed him. "Are you all right, William?"

"I'm fine, Archie." He paused to study his friend. "Why do you ask?"

"I just thought Mr Billen may have reminded you of a certain someone." Piercing blue eyes met his pale ones steadily.

William smiled faintly. "He did, at first, but it's not the same."

"It rarely is." Archie returned the smile and watched as William continued on with his duties.

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Of all the troubles the Grasshopper may have run into, William hadn't considered that she could have run aground. From what Horatio and Archie had said about their former shipmate, Captain Bracegirdle, was too good a sailor to have run aground. To be fair, though, the storm had been pretty bad. If Horatio had not made a point of staying further out to sea, they could very well have run aground.

"We're not going to learn anything standing around here on deck," Horatio eventually decided. "Mr Wellard, have the jolly boat lowered and tell Mr Hammond he's going ashore. Mr Kennedy, you're with me. Mr Bush, you have command."

William saluted, a little disappointed he wouldn't be going with the captain. "Aye-aye, Sir."

"Keep our guests belowdecks as much as possible," Horatio told him in an undertone as Archie left to collect the men and marines who would accompany them ashore. "Beat to quarters only if you absolutely have to. Understand?"

He nodded, saluting again. "Aye, Sir."

"Take good care of her for us." Horatio patted the railing and headed over to climb down into the jolly boat.

William watched them go, understanding that, however much the two men may include him in their friendship, he was still an intruder. Shaking his head at foolish notions of loneliness, he began to pace the quarterdeck, focusing on his duty.

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William Bush paced the quarterdeck impatiently, straining his eyes for any sign of what was taking place ashore. Periodically, he'd use his spyglass for a closer look. He wasn't the only one, either. Both Orrock and Wellard did the same, as well as Mr Prowse. William was on another fruitless circuit of the quarterdeck when Wellard shouted, "Sir! There's smoke ashore!"

"What? Are you sure?" Swiftly joining the midshipman at the railing, William lifted his glass to his eye. That's smoke from gunfire... Swiftly tracking the direction of the guns, he saw Horatio, Archie, and the others crouched by the quarter boat, effectively pinned down. "Beat to quarters, Mr Prowse."

The ship's master didn't even question William, shouting, "Beat to quarters!"

"Hard to starboard!" Even as he felt the ship move under his booted feet, he barked his next command. "Roll out the larboard guns!"

A puff of smoke from shore was the only warning they had before a cannonball tore through one of their sails. That didn't stop William from giving the command to fire, nor did it keep the officers from repeating it to their divisions: "Fire!"

Hotspur shuddered with the force of the recoil from the guns. William watched with some satisfaction as one of their shots hit the cannon that had fired on them, sending it crashing to the beach below. He learned later that it would have crushed Matthews and Hammond if not for the fact that Horatio had seen the danger and stopped them just in time. As orderly chaos reigned, William heard Prowse shout, "Get below, that man there!"

"Who's firing at us?" William recognised the voice and felt anger stir in him that the man hadn't had the sense to stay below, out of danger.

"The Frogs, who'd you bloody think?" Prowse saved William from answering the question, allowing him to focus on the task at hand. "Now get below!"

Grateful that Billen hadn't needed further prompting, William bellowed, "Reload!"

"Sir! The French are forming up to fire on them," Orrock reported, his glass fixed on shore. "They won't get away in time!"

William set his jaw at that news. They would if he had anything to say about it. "Mr Wellard! Aim for the French troops on shore!"

"Aye-aye, Sir!" The midshipman gave quick directions to his gun crew. "Gun ready!"

"Fire!" William practically roared the order.

Wellard seemed to be of the same mind as he echoed the command. "Fire!"

They watched tensely as the cannonball flew through the air, crashing into the French soldiers and sending them flying. The crew involuntarily cheered at the sight. William himself didn't breathe a sigh of relief until he saw the quarter boat on its way back to the ship and could pick out both Horatio and Archie sitting up in the stern.

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Captain Bracegirdle seemed to be a shell of a man when he finally made it aboard the Hotspur. He seemed scarcely able to stand on his own. Matthews and Styles bundled him below as quickly as possible, but William caught a glimpse of his face: his gaze was hollow and unseeing. It sent a shiver down his spine. He looked up when Archie joined him on the quarterdeck. "Was there no one else, Mr Kennedy?"

"No one alive excepting the French," Archie replied, his glass clasped tightly in his hands.

William watched the crew bustle around, setting the ship to rights. "Where's Maguire?"

"No one knows." Archie looked frustrated. "He must've slipped away during the fighting."

He stifled a sigh at that. In retrospect, it had been foolish to take the man ashore. Before he could think of something else to say, Horatio joined them, hands clasped behind his back. "Captain Bracegirdle will survive, in body if not spirit."

"I'm glad to hear it, Sir." William was quite sincere. He hoped he'd get a chance to talk with the man. Even as they discussed what the captain had found, part of William wondered if he'd look as lost and haunted as Bracegirdle had if he ever earned a command and lost it somehow. Unexpectedly, a familiar face came to mind, brown eyes warm and teasing as the sensual mouth curved into an impudent smirk. Perhaps not, if he had more in his life than the Navy. He banished Côtard's image from his mind as Captain Bracegirdle dashed onto the deck, looking more alive.

Both Horatio and Archie looked pleased to see their former shipmate up and about. "Still with us, Mr Bracegirdle?"

"It seems God had second thoughts about me, Mr Kennedy," Bracegirdle responded to Archie's comment with a smile.

William noticed the relieved glances Horatio and Archie exchanged and hid a smile of his own. Even though he barely knew the man, he was still relieved to see the lift in his spirits. Perhaps he'd live to command another ship after all.

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William never was sure if he believed if there was any truth to the superstition about Jonah or not. From the mutters he overheard, though, he knew a good many of the men aboard the Hotspur believed it. Styles was the most voluble of them, but he'd always had trouble keeping his voice down. Matthews tried to keep him quiet, but Bush heard the big bos'un's mate muttering about it anyway, claiming their American guests were Jonahs. If William were to name anyone as a Jonah, it would have to be Maguire. They should have realised there was something very strange about him being captured by the French, only to escape and row back to the ship. It proved to be a distraction, though, as French troops boarded the Hotspur from the other side of the ship.

What followed was a flurry of fighting: swords clashing, pistols and muskets firing. He caught glimpses of the others fighting in the rain: Styles, Orrock, Matthews, Archie, Wellard, and Hammond. He caught the sound of fighting belowdecks and followed it, spotting Horatio fighting a familiar figure: Wolfe, the coxswain who turned out to be helping France in order to free Ireland from England's rule. He was distracted briefly by a gunshot. Looking over, he saw a Frenchman falling dead at Archie's feet. "Mr Kennedy, with me."

"Right behind you, Mr Bush," Archie replied, following William in his mad rush down.

He pointed his gun at Wolfe, "Put the weapon down, Wolfe!" He hesitated to shoot, because his struggle with Horatio made it difficult to get a clear shot at him without endangering the commander.

Archie barrelled past William and tried to grab Wolfe from behind and pull him off Horatio. Whether it was lucky chance or Wolfe somehow knew, he elbowed Archie in the stomach, right where he'd been hit on the Renown. Archie fell back with a wince and Wolfe turned Horatio, shoving him into Bush, who struggled to keep them both on their feet. Horatio recovered quickly and straightened up, pointing his own gun at Maguire, who'd been leading the Billens from their quarters, "Stop there, Maguire or I'll shoot! I wish my guests to stay."

"Ignore him Maguire," Wolfe had stopped at the top of the steps and now pointed a gun at Horatio. William quickly aimed his own at Wolfe. Out of the corner of his eye, William could see Archie getting up and standing ready for anything. "He'd never shoot a man in cold blood, but I would and gladly."

"I will kill him, Wolfe," Horatio retorted, never taking his eyes off Maguire, who remained frozen with Mr and Mrs Billen behind him. "I have cause enough. Mr Kennedy, relieve him of his weapon."

Archie started up towards Wolfe, face determined, only to stop at Wolfe's next words, "He comes near me and I shoot you, Hornblower." William understood why Archie hesitated then. He wouldn't want to risk losing his lover. "So which is to be: me or you?"

"Or us both?" Horatio's words struck William like a dash of cold water. He had only to imagine André saying something like to understand how much more it must have hurt Archie. He didn't think too closely about what that meant in regards to his relationship with the Frenchman. He'd have time for that later. William didn't get longer to think on that, because Horatio gave him an order almost immediately, "Kill him, Mr Bush, and let him die for France."

William hesitated, catching a flash of movement up near Wolfe. He glanced at Archie and the second lieutenant nodded. His gun still trained on Wolfe, he told Horatio, "Can't."

"The decent Englishman," Wolfe's grin was fierce and dismissive, unaware of the danger that quietly moved closer. "If only you had the guts to match."

For once, Horatio seemed to lose control of his temper at William's seeming inability to do as he'd been ordered. "Obey my orders, Mr Bush, damn you!" Archie had rejoined them and William guessed he'd caught Horatio's attention somehow when he felt him start. Then Horatio looked up at Wolfe and saw what William and Archie had seen: Captain Bracegirdle, pistol in hand, silently approaching Wolfe. He nodded slightly. "All right, Mr Bush, let us have it your way. Let us surrender."

All three of them held up their hands and Bracegirdle moved closer. Just as he was about to shoot, a Frenchman grabbed him from behind, causing him to misfire. Wolfe ducked and made for the side of the boat. Maguire tried to take advantage of Horatio's distraction, but William shot him. Before anyone could stop Wolfe, he was over the side. Straightening up, Horatio looked at the Billens. Joseph held up his hands. "I surrender, Captain."

Chapter Text

When William was admitted to the captain's cabin, he wasn't surprised to find Archie there already. Judging by the fact that Archie had the 'English bulldog' set to his face and Horatio looked like he'd been sucking lemons, William gathered it hadn't been a typical meeting between the two. Rather than mention it, he instead simply said, "The boats are ready, Sir."

"Thank you, Mr Bush," Horatio replied, stiff and terse, as if they were on the quarterdeck. Oh, damn. He's still upset about what happened with Wolfe... "A moment, if you please."

William stiffened to attention, his eyes flicking briefly to Archie. The second lieutenant was staring at Horatio as if he'd lost his mind. Whatever the captain was about to say was only his opinion, then, and not both. It was very rare when the two disagreed on anything. "When Wolfe held his gun to me, you should have shot him. Damn it, man, he could have taken the whole ship."

"I couldn't do it, Horatio." He didn't have Archie's way with words, but he tried anyway.

The dark eyes flashed with anger as Horatio paced. "Don't disobey me, William. Never again. I command the Hotspur, and that is all that matters to me."

"Is it, Horatio?" Archie demanded then, his voice angry. In his bright blue eyes, though, William could see that Horatio had wounded him. Consternation flashed across Horatio's face as he realized what his words meant to Archie. His second lieutenant wasn't finished, though, his hands balled into fists at his sides as he continued. "Captain Bracegirdle has lost his ship and he's only half a man without it. Would you really share his fate if you lost the Hotspur or any other ship you might command?"

Horatio, looking stricken, took a step towards Archie, one hand extended. "No, Archie, of course not."

"I think your previous statement was correct, Captain." Archie swallowed hard and stepped back, ignoring Horatio's hand. "Part of me has always wondered if I mattered more to you than the sea. Now I have my answer."

With that, he turned and left the cabin. Horatio started to go after him, then stopped and sighed. "I'm an idiot."

"You'll have to make amends," William only dared to offer the advice because whatever anger Horatio bore towards him had been wiped away by the conflict with Archie.

Horatio rubbed his eyes. "I don't have time now. I'll talk to him when we get back."

"We, Sir?" William repeated, surprised. He'd expected that Horatio would take Archie with him to investigate, like he had before.

The captain nodded. "Yes, we, William. You're coming ashore with me while Matthews will go with Captain Bracegirdle. Archie will have command."

"Aye-aye, Sir." As he followed Horatio from the cabin, William wondered if this would ever happen between him and André. We'd probably find other things to fight about...

Chapter Text

William wished Horatio had talked to Archie before they left to do their investigation of whatever the French were up to ashore. There was no guarantee that they'd make it back to the ship, especially since they were on French soil and could be hanged for spying if they were caught. At one point, Wolfe almost did catch them, but William and Horatio managed to avoid detection and returned to their boat in good time. Matthews was waiting for them and Horatio asked, "What are you doing here, Matthews? What's happened to Captain Bracegirdle?"

"He said he needed more time, Sir. He said he won't be long." It sounded like Matthews had been rehearsing the explanation. "I sent the other boat back to wait for him."

Horatio nodded. "Very well, you'll have to come with us."

"Aye-aye, Sir."

They returned to the ship with typical British naval efficiency. As he climbed aboard, Horatio asked, "How are we for time, Mr. Kennedy?

"Punctual as ever, Captain," Archie replied, his voice professional, but William could hear the underlying relief in his voice that Horatio had made it back safely.

One of the seamen drew their attention back to the cliff top and, through the glass, William saw Bracegirdle scrambling to climb down to where his boat waited. "Mr. Prowse, let's close the distance for them!"

"Aye-aye, Sir!" Prowse began bellowing orders to the crew to start moving the ship closer to the boat.

Archie, who'd been watching the activity on the cliff top, commented almost off-handedly. "Those don't look like ship's cannons to me."

"No, they aren't," Horatio agreed after he'd taken a look as well. He returned his attention to Bracegirdle, who was waving his arms to catch their attention. He was clearly trying to communicate a message and Horatio shook his head. "I can't make out what he's saying."

William had been watching the French on the cliff top and saw that one of the guns had fired. Moments later, Bracegirdle's boat exploded, stunning all of them into momentary silence. As they examined the wreckage through their glasses, Matthews remarked, "They didn't stand a chance."

"They're firing again!" Archie exclaimed. The shell seemed to fall to their deck in slow motion. While William could only stare, both Horatio and Archie threw themselves on the shell, working together to extinguish the fuse. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the two were successful.

As Orrock led the men in a cheer for Archie and Horatio, only William seemed to see the way they knelt and stared at each other over the now-dud shell they both held. Once the cheering died away, William began issuing orders, "Resume your duty, Mr. Orrock." Stepping over to his friends, he told them, "Captain, Mr. Kennedy, perhaps it'd be best if the damn thing were thrown overboard?"

"Yes, of course, Mr. Bush, thank you." Horatio nodded and, taking full possession of the shell, tossed it over the railing into the sea. He turned back once that was accomplished, his expression determinedly blank though William could see sorrow in his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was brisk and business-like. "Mr. Bush, you have command. I'll be in my quarters."

William saluted, his heart aching for Horatio and Archie's loss. "Aye-aye, Sir."

As Horatio went below, William saw Archie move to other end of the ship and disappear below as well. They would comfort each other. That was as it should be.

Chapter Text

William hadn't realized how much he'd looked forward to possibly seeing André again until the Hotspur was placed under quarantine. No one could disembark and no one could board, not even Horatio, who'd left to make his report to Admiral Pellew. More than once, he'd found himself watching the docks, hoping for a glimpse of a red coat. He knew it was foolish, that he didn't even know if André was in Portsmouth. Yet, he still hoped for a glimpse.

He wasn't sure if he'd rather know for a fact like Archie did. His friend watched the docks, too, likely hoping for a glimpse of Horatio in the mass of dark blue coats. The fact that the crew did the same, shore leave so close and yet so far ensure that no one remarked on the behavior. Still, "I'm tired of waiting, William. How much longer will it take them to decide?"

"You and I both know that bureaucracy takes its own sweet time, Archie," William reminded his friend as they swung in their hammocks.

"They better make up their minds soon," Archie grumbled discontentedly. "I hate being away from him like this."

William said nothing in reply because it would be an empty platitude and Archie could do without those. They could only wait and hope the quarantine would end soon.

Chapter Text

Once again, Horatio took William ashore, in hopes of uncovering the secret the French had been anxious to hide at Brest. As they made their careful, quiet way to the French camp, William told Horatio in a low voice, "I overheard you speaking with the Bonapartes."

"How? Those were very private conversations." Horatio once again looked like he'd been sucking lemons.

William had a point to make on Archie's behalf and he was determined to carry it. "I couldn't sleep. I broke my arm as a boy and it always aches when rain or snow threatens." That was the truth. "You were rather harsh with both of them."

"They needed to see the reality of their situation," Horatio countered, his hands clenching into fists for a moment. "Romantic idealism has no place in war."

He shook his head with a sigh. "And what about your feelings for Archie? Do those have no place in war?"

"That's completely different," Horatio trailed off with an awkward cough.

Even William, with so little experience in that realm, could see the hypocrisy of his friend's words. "They're not and you know it, Horatio. We can't bring back Jérôme, but I hope, in the future, you will remember that emotions are as important as rationality and duty when you consider what to say or do."

"Why are you so determined to discuss this, William?" Horatio stopped and studied him for several moments. "Does this have anything to do with Côtard?"

He shook his head again, grateful his cheeks were already red due to the cold weather. "No. You and Archie are my friends and I don't want to see either of you hurt due to ill-considered words. I know you think before you speak or act, but it's clear you don't always think of everything, especially when it comes to sentiment."

"Thank you for your concern and advice, Mr. Bush," Horatio told him after studying him for several more moments. "For now, let's continue our duty here and find out what the French and Wolfe are hiding."

Stifling a sigh, William only nodded. "Aye-aye, sir."

Chapter Text

"I admire you, Hornblower, I really do." Wolfe made no move towards Horatio or the pistol near his feet, but every Marine, every sailor, and every officer kept their guns pointed at him. He'd proven far too canny an opponent for them to any chances. "But I loathe and despise every bloody thing that you represent."

He reached under his coat and drew a pistol he must have had hidden at the small of his back. Before he could even point it at Horatio, practically the entire crew fired, riddling the Irishman with bullet holes. William couldn't say who fired first, though he suspected Archie, who'd been standing on Horatio's other side. Once Wolfe lay dead, Horatio gave the order to clear the deck. "Give Wolfe a proper burial."

"Sir!" Styles started to exclaim, only for Matthews to nudge him with his elbow. "Aye, sir."

William exchanged a glance with Archie, remembering the grudge Styles had against the former coxswain. "He was one of us, once, Styles."

"A man of the sea deserves a burial at sea," Archie added, his glance going to Horatio, who stood with Prowse near the wheel, discussing how best to get out of the inlet now that they'd achieved their goal.

The men set to work with a will, supervised by both Hammond and Orrock. William knew that Wellard was belowdeck, seeing to the repairs. For the moment, he and Archie were alone. "Horatio's too clever for the sea to take him just yet."

"Sometimes, I think she has already and he's simply waiting to return to her embrace," Archie confided in a voice almost too low for William to hear.

William shook his head, nudging his shoulder against Archie's. "You didn't see him when we thought you were dead. He retreated into his shell and nothing I said or did drew him out of it for more than a few minutes at a time. You remind him that there's more to life than mathematics and the sea."

"I need to talk to him, but we've had no privacy for it." Archie sighed deeply, rubbing his hands together briskly.

He nodded his agreement. These discussions with both of his friends had helped put his relationship with André into perspective and he longed to see him. "Perhaps when we return to England. We didn't get leave last time we were there, after all."

"Perhaps. For now, we have duties to attend to, Mr. Bush." Archie touched his hat with the tips of his fingers.

"Mr. Kennedy." William returned the gesture and headed belowdecks to see how Mr. Wellard was getting on with the repairs.

Chapter Text

"Happy Christmas, everyone," William greeted the others when he joined them for their Christmas feast.

The others returned the greeting as he slipped into the open seat between Horatio and Mr. Prowse. Archie raised his glass to his fellow lieutenant. "You haven't missed much, William."

"I'm relieved to hear it." William accepted his glass of wine from Horatio's steward. "May we all live to see another Christmas."

They cheered and echoed the toast: "To another Christmas!"

Dinner proceeded with much talk and laughter. They'd survived much together and William looked forward to many more voyages with this crew. Especially Archie and Horatio. Eventually, they sang one last Christmas song and the others departed for their quarters, some staggering more than others. Eventually, the only ones left at the table were Horatio, Archie, and William. "I have long cherished my friendship with Archie and I count myself even luckier to have your friendship as well, William."

"Thank you, Horatio." William smiled, noticing that Archie had covered Horatio's hand on the table and neither made any attempt to hide it from him. "I-- Well, I hadn't expected to make friends when I accepted the post on the Renown, but now I count myself most fortunate for having met the two of you."

"I confess I didn't like you at first, William," Archie told him with a smirk.

Horatio turned to him with wide, shocked eyes. "Archie!"

"Now, I am glad to call you my friend." Archie extended his free hand across the table.

Smiling, William clasped Archie's hand with his. He offered the other hand to Horatio, who clasped it after staring for a moment. "Happy Christmas, Horatio, Archie."

"Happy Christmas, William." "Happy Christmas."

Chapter Text

"Mr. Bush!" At the sound of André's voice, William felt his heart skip a beat.

Turning in place, he caught sight of his lover, the red coat easily visible in the crowd. He smiled and extended his hand. "Major Côtard. It is a pleasure to see you again."

"And I, you, mon ami." Smiling, André took William's hand and tugged on it so he could kiss each of his cheeks in turn. "I have taken a room at Ferrault. We can talk in private there."

William nodded, hoisting his bag over his shoulder. "That sounds perfect, Major."

They walked quickly through the streets to Ferrault Inn, their booted footsteps in perfect time with William's racing heartbeat. Luckily, no one tried to stop them when they reached the inn, so they could head upstairs right away. The moment the door closed behind them, William reached for André, pulling him into a hungry kiss. After a moment of surprise, André wrapped his arms around William, responding eagerly to the kiss. "I have missed you, William."

"I missed you, too, André." William murmured, leaning into his lover's strong warmth. "I'm glad we can ring in the new year together at least."

He felt André kiss his forehead. "Joyeux Noel et bonne année."

"What is that in English?" William asked, straightening so he could look at André.

His lover smiled and kissed him softly. "Merry Christmas and happy new year."

"And the same to you, my friend." William drew André into another kiss.

Moaning, André returned the kiss and guided William to the bed. They could talk properly later.

Chapter Text

"I didn't like you at first, William," André Côtard confessed when they lay tangled with each other and the sheets.

Much to his surprise, William laughed. "First Archie, now you. Why do people dislike me?"

"I cannot speak for Mr. Kennedy, but as for myself, you refused to give way to me like most people I knew." André propped himself up on one elbow so he could look at William properly. "You stood up to me and insisted on proper naval protocol."

William raised an eyebrow at André. "Proper naval protocol keeps the ship running, André."

"I know that now. I didn't at the time." Smiling, André gently smoothed back strands of hair that had fallen into William's eyes. "However, as we spent time together, I came to like and respect that you refused to defer to me simply because I demanded it. I had to earn your respect. Do you know how rare that is for a man of my station?"

His lover smiled, reaching up to tuck a strand of André's hair behind his ear. "I've some idea. You're not the first noble I've met, you know."

"Indeed?" André wondered who else William knew. Dropping that line of questioning, he returned to what he'd been saying. "I liked that I had to earn your respect and I found you quite attractive from the first."

Chuckling, William shook his head. "I don't know what you find attractive about me, but you're not so bad yourself." He feathered his fingers through the hair at André's temple, pale blue eyes turning serious. "For the first time since I went to sea as a boy, I found myself wishing to be back ashore. I wanted more time with you."

"I am… very humbled, William." André had wondered if William thought of him during his voyages. "I've thought of you often, wondering what you were doing, if you were keeping your captain and ship safe."

Smiling once again so the corners of his eyes crinkled, William drew André's head down for a kiss, slow and sweet this time. "I'm touched."

André rested his hand over William's heart, feeling the beat speed up. "We both face so much danger, William. I ask only for some of your time when we're both ashore."

"Gladly, André." William covered André's hand with his, squeezing gently.

"Merci beacoup, mon cher." With that André leaned in to kiss William again.