Lieutenant William Bush lay passively on his cot in the prison hospital, feeling the stitches pull across his stomach with each intake of breath. Simply being passive was an odd enough occurrence for him, without thinking about all the other events that had landed him behind bars.
Behind bars and waiting to see if they would hang the name of "mutineer" around his neck along with a noose.
Although his body was quiet, his mind was as active as ever. He lay still, listening to the laboured breathing of Lieutenant Archie Kennedy in the cot alongside his. He could tell by the sound that his friend was awake, but he was not inclined to conversation. Especially now that he knew he would live. Kennedy was already a dead man, one who just happened to still be breathing. Gut shot as he was his chances of survival were minimal, even non-existent.
Bush's heart ached at the thought of such a young life unceremoniously snuffed out. He had not known Kennedy long, but had come to appreciate him as a fellow officer and as a fellow man. He had a sense of humour that appealed to Bush; a little quirky, wryly sarcastic, and not always appropriate. In fact, Kennedy had a habit of not being appropriate at certain times. It came from the strength of his heart, which had always dominated his head.
And now it was just a matter of time before he was gone. The only question remaining was would the rest of Renown's lieutenants follow him.
He and Kennedy knew from Hornblower's almost daily visits that the trial was not going all that well. It was difficult to avoid the subject all together, although each of them did his best not to dwell on it. The marine guards also discussed it, snatches of their conversations drifting in through the door's barred window. What they heard was not very encouraging.
He had missed Hornblower's visit earlier this evening. At Doctor Clive's insistence he had risen from his bed and gone outside for some fresh air. Despite the ever-present pain it had felt wonderful to get up and walk about. But whatever was said had obviously given Kennedy food for thought. He was still awake when Bush drifted into an uneasy sleep.
He woke up minutes, or hours, later; he wasn't sure which it was. Neither was he sure what had pulled him from sleep until the voice sounded again.
He turned his head slightly and could just make out Kennedy's form in the darkness. "Mister Kennedy?"
"Do you have any idea what time it is?" Kennedy asked, his voice husky from pain and lack of sleep.
Bush thought a moment, trying to remember what the last bells were he had heard from the harbour. It was no good, however; his brain was fuzzy from his fitful sleep and he felt as exhausted as if he had never slept at all. The darkness was still complete, however, which provided at least a partial clue. "Its either very late at night or very early in the morning, depending on your point of view" he answered.
"Either way time is running out" Kennedy mused, half to himself.
"Time is running out?" Bush asked, trying to quell the sudden chill he had felt at those words.
"Time is running out in the trial. Running out for you, and for Horatio."
Bush wryly noted that Kennedy made no mention of Buckland. He could scarcely blame him; it was all too easy to believe that Buckland had purposely endangered Hornblower, and by extension he and Kennedy, when he had ordered the fort destroyed. He knew it was dishonourable, but he couldn't help feeling that Buckland would be justly hanged for what he had done to his juniors.
"There isn't much that you or I can do in regards to the trial, Mister Kennedy. I'm concerned as well, but we are not a factor."
Kennedy laughed, a harsh, self-deprecating sound. "Ever practical, Mister Bush. But you're wrong. There is something I can do."
Again Bush felt that horrible chill. He forced himself to a sitting position, groaning slightly in pain as he turned to face Kennedy. "What can you do, Archie?" He purposely used Kennedy's first name as a spoken gesture of confidence.
"I think you know, William" was Kennedy's response. "And I'm going to need your help."
"You're out of your mind!" Bush exclaimed.
Again the laugh. "You mentioned that once before, remember? It turned out all right then."
"This is completely different!" Bush insisted. "What makes you think you can possibly do any good?"
"Look at me, for God's sake!" Kennedy all but shouted. He sucked in a breath against the pain before continuing. "No executioner can get anywhere near me. His work is already more than half done! But if I can save you, and Horatio, before it's finished it will have been worth it."
"You can't sacrifice yourself like that!" Bush pleaded. "You'll be condemned forever; painted as black as the worst villain! Can you do that to your family?"
Kennedy sighed. "I can and I will. But I would ask one favour of you, William..."
"When you get back to England make sure my sister knows the truth. Don't be afraid of hurting her with it; she may look delicate but she's tough as nails. I know you're an honest, and honourable, man. Treat her as such."
"I will, Archie."
Hours passed, and Bush felt as if he had aged a decade. It was a struggle just to get Kennedy to his feet, let alone fully dressed. He had finger combed his friend's hair and re-tied his queue as best he could. By the time Doctor Clive arrived in the morning Kennedy was neat and presentable, sitting upright on his bunk in full uniform.
Bush was exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
Clive took one look at the pair of them, at Bush's haggard and drawn face and Kennedy's determined one, and didn't ask any questions. The ship's surgeon was capable of amazing sensitivity and perception at times. This was one such moment. He helped Kennedy to his feet and supported him as he walked unsteadily out the door.
Leaving Bush alone with just his thoughts for company and no outlet for his growing physical discomfort. He was too tired and in too much pain to pace the length of the cell. All he could do was sit on his cot, agitatedly running his hands over and across the cover of a small book that Kennedy had given him shortly before Clive's arrival.
"I know my penchant for quoting made you crazy at times" Kennedy had said with a small smile. "Perhaps if you improved you knowledge..." And he had pressed the book into Bush's hands.
It was a volume of Shakespeare's sonnets.
"Even if you never read it, take good care of it, William. Its a piece of myself."
Bush had felt his throat close at those words. Soon, perhaps in just a few short hours, this book would be all he had left of a friend he had known for all too short a time.
"I will Archie. I promise."
He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't even hear Hornblower come in shortly thereafter.
"Where is he?" Hornblower asked, nodding toward Kennedy's empty cot.
Bush started and stumbled over the lie he had to tell. "Oh, he... He's up and about." It sounded false even to his ears.
Hornblower sighed and leaned his head against the bars. "I was hoping to see him before I was recalled." he said.
The almost wistful tone of his voice was more than Bush could take. He had agreed to keep what Kennedy was doing a secret, but did he have to do it at the expense of hurting another friend? The best he could do was give a clue as to where Kennedy was.
"And see him you shall" he said, laying the book on the cot beside him before getting painfully to his feet
He watched the thoughts chase across Hornblower's face and saw the exact moment when realization hit.
"Where is he!" Hornblower asked, more forcefully this time.
"Wait, man. Wait, wait... It must be done!"
"No." Hornblower breathed. He shot Bush hateful glance but didn't say another word to him. He banged on the door and called for the marine guard. As soon as the door opened he disappeared through it, not looking back.
When Kennedy returned to the cell with Doctor Clive Bush was pacing, breath grating and arms wrapped protectively about his waist, as if to hold in the pain. He looked up when the door swung open.
One of the marines was helping Clive to support Kennedy, who could barely walk on his own. His face was pale and a fine sheen of sweat covered his skin. His eyes were blank and hollow, as if having done what he set out to do he had now truly given himself over to his death.
It took Bush a moment to realize the marine was addressing him.
"You're to be moved to the regular hospital, sir." the marine said with a quick sidelong glance at Kennedy.
So he had done it, Bush thought to himself. Made the ultimate sacrifice to save his friend. I've been included more or less by default.
"Give me a few moments, will you?" he requested. The guard nodded and retreated from the room.
With efficient and practiced hands Clive had gotten Kennedy out of his uniform and back to his cot. The bandage wrapped tight about his torso was freshly stained with blood. Clive straightened up and turned to Bush.
"Say what you have to say now" the doctor said quietly. "You won't have another chance." And with that he left the room.
Bush knelt beside Kennedy's bed and waited until the younger man's listless blue eyes focused on his face. "I'm sorry" he said, not knowing what else to say.
"I'm not" Kennedy replied, his voice firm and determined. "I did this freely, of my own free will. 'As full of valour as of royal blood.' That's me." he quipped.
"But why me?" Bush asked, the question springing from his tormented soul.
Kennedy smiled. "For the same reason as Horatio. Friendship does not have to be of long duration to be strong and true, William. Remember that."
"I will. I'll always remember."
"You owe me a life well lived." Kennedy said. "I've given the Devil his due to purchase that for you. Don't let me down."
"I won't" Bush vowed. He smiled slightly. "And I'll make sure that Hornblower pays that debt as well." He stood and collected his meager possessions, placing the book of sonnets on the top of the bag. He turned back to his friend. Unbidden into his mind came something Kennedy had once quoted to him when worrying over the justness of their acts in relation to Captain Sawyer. Before he could stop it the words came from his mouth.
"'God keep all vows unbroke are made to thee!'+" He slung the bag over his shoulder. "Good-bye, Archie." And he left the cell they had shared before the tears had a chance to fall.
Richard II Act V, Scene v
Richard II Act IV, Scene i