?

Log in

London, March 1802
by Rio, dancing on the sand (hotspur18)
at July 23rd, 2006 (03:11 pm)




"/Idiot/," said Hal, as he helped Guido out of their carriage later that night. "You stupid, bloody-minded - oh, why do I bother. You'll just say 'Yes, Hal,' and go off and do it again."

"Shut up," growled Guido, his lip splitting open again, and leaning on Hal with a small groan of pain. "I won, didn't I?"

"Did you really?" Hal's blond eyebrows were raised. "Cos from where I was standing, Conte mio, that's not what it looked like at all. It looked like you lost. Lost yourself, to be precise."

"It's - easier."

"Than mourning?"

"By far."

"We never mourn together," said Hal to the night air, as they stumbled across the courtyard to the back door. "Have you noticed?"

Guido pulled himself upright, swaying slightly in the moonlight, frowning at Hal. "We did," he said, very gently. "Once. Do you remember?"

"You're the one with holes in his memory - /yes/, I remember. I'm not likely to forget, am I? You were -"

//Distraught, detached from all things around you, weeping as though you would shed all the tears in the world - and perhaps you did, at least for you. Father and brothers to lay in the family crypt, Lorenzo disappeared into the new role of the Conte, Francesca refusing to see you, Angelo sent away long before the cholera hit us - and Boulestin already gone, not even a priest to help you in your grief. Only me.//

"So you see why I can't mourn now."

Hal shook his head. "I see why you can't for Archie. But that wasn't who you were trying not to mourn for, was it?"

"Don't push me, Hal, not tonight. I don't feel like being scraped at."

"No. No, of course you don't, and it's all about what /you/ want -"

"Stop it!" There was anger now, as well as pain, in Guido's voice. "No. No, Hal, it's /not/ all about what I want. If it were about what I want, I would not be wondering how to write to his father. I would not be trying to get back his name /legally/. I would be mourning my friend openly, not grieving for the name of a dead lieutenant. I would not be prepared to send England to the devil and I would not, do you hear me, /not/ be about to challenge the Admiralty. I love this country, whether you believe me or no, I love it more than my life, but I /will not/ see a man defamed for it. Don't you see? Don't you understand? It's not just that it's Archie. It's that it was wrong - oh, Christ, Hal, /try/ to understand! If there is no honour and courage and justice to cling to, then there is no hope either - not for any of us. I cannot live like this! I will not live with corruption, with hypocrisy and lies to protect those undeserving of protection!"

"You lie for the Academics!" Hal knew that he was being irrational, but he could not have stopped the words ripping out of him if he had sealed his lips together with glue. Guido froze.

"I beg your damn pardon?" he asked, his voice an almost perfect facsimile of Edrington at his most annoyed. "I'll lie for who the hell I want to, Trevelyan - and unless you really /believe/ they deserve the fate I'm trying to save them from, I'd like to know why you're questioning my decision!"

"No lies, you said. No hypocrisy. Are you telling me that you wouldn't stand up in front of God and man and lie to save my life? To save others' lives? 'Cos if you are, then the 'fiat justitia' is as much a lie as any of it!"

"Why do you think it's so bloody unbearable?" Guido screamed at him, fresh blood streaming down his chin and onto his shirt as his lip opened up again. "Yes! Yes, I would have made that same choice! But by Christ, I don't know if I could have borne watching /you/ make it! Archie is /dead/, Hal, he's dead and buried and he gave up his name willingly - what does his honour mean to him now? It's /easy/ for the dead! What gets me is that either the stupid bastard never once thought of what he was doing to his friend - never thought that Hornblower's going to go through life now knowing /exactly/ what the price of his command is - or worse, that Hornblower knew, knew and didn't care enough to stop him. Can't you see? I could not have stood aside. I would have moved heaven and earth - I would have found a way! And I don't know whether to grieve for Horatio or curse him to the farthest ends of the earth - /that/ is why I want the truth! The living matter to me, Hal - the dead cannot be revived, but the living matter...and God help me, I gave /both/ of them my word. I can't rescind it. I can't even tell myself to rescind it - and God knows I tried tonight. Told myself I wasn't worth it, he wouldn't want me to try, that he hadn't even written to me, so what the hell did it matter - but it does. It matters. If we can't keep our names, we become worthless - if that's what this country demands now, why should I keep trying to protect it? It's one thing for /me/ to lie, to cheat, to kill - I do it in the name of King and Country, and I keep my honour inside my soul, but for a man who pledged himself to duty - Hal, we're supposed to protect these men. All of them. Not just Archie, or Horatio, or some noble fool of a captain we read about - /all/ of them. It's what we're supposed to be here for. And this - there was something wrong with what happened. I'm going to find out what. You said you would be at my side, my friend - has that changed? I will release you from any vow you feel binds you, if that is what you want."

"No. But I want - I need formality, Guido. I know we agreed to mourn later, but I can't. I need that time now."

"And I can't spare it - Hal, will you do something for me?"

"If I can."

"Go to Italy. To the palazzo. I know we can't bury the body, but we can put a memorial stone in the chapel, can't we?"

"I suppose - what, like the marble ones in Westminster and St Paul's? That sort of memorial?"

"Er - not quite as elaborate, maybe, but yes."

"We could design it before I left?"

Guido put his hand on Hal's shoulder. "We could design it now, if you like."

"I - yes. Yes - no...I don't - God /damn/ it, Guido, I wish you could grieve."

"I do. I am. I think you should be far away from me for a while, Hal, or you will learn to hate me for what I have become."

"I would never -!"

"You would. You should." Guido's voice was grim. "I /am/ the assassin, Hal, I cannot bid that part of me go, no matter how much I try. And that part of me cannot mourn other than in death and violence. You -"

"Yes, I'll go. If that's what you need."

Guido's bruised face was as closed as ever it had been aboard the 'Indefatigable', his eyes black and tired-looking.

"Let's design the memorial," he said quietly, blotting at his lip with an already stained sleeve. "You can take the 'Revenant' when you leave."

"Take the - are you sure?"

Guido nodded, turning away. "I want you gone, Hal. This is not your battle to fight. I want you to stay safe."

"You - /dare/..." Hal grabbed at his friend's shoulder, spinning him round and ignoring the gasp of pain. "If you fight, I fight, Guido, remember? Don't /tell/ me I matter if you're going to try and dismiss me! How many bloody times, how /many/, before you understand I'm not leaving you? If I do my mourning, I will do it here, and you can damn well bear it! We'll send the bloody plans off to Angelo, and he can do what he's sodding well told to for once - I'm /not/ some parcel to be packed off as and when you feel like it! I /told/ you vows and promises, I said I would be at your side - what are you afraid of, Guido? Death and disgrace? It's happened, it's here, it may well be us next, but it's my /right/ to choose it if I please, and I'm a part of this whether you like it or not - you want Kennedy's name back, and I've got Prinny's ear, and last thing I checked, you were 'a bit of a sobersides'. Don't you bloody /dare/ tell me what's safe, you arrogant, pigheaded, stubborn Italian, you have absolutely no idea what would be safe for me and you never have!"

"Don't be so /utterly/ ridiculous, Hal, the same things are safe for you as for the rest of we mere mortals."

Hal spat out a suggestion as to what Guido could do that he had obviously picked up from Flynn, and Guido's bruises showed more lividly than ever in the pale light as the blood rose beneath his skin.

"The same to you," he said coldly. "I want you /gone/, Hal, is that clear enough for you? Christ - you /never/ - bloody - /listen/!"

"You think I would do the same? You think I would give up my name for you and yours? Wrong, Guido, that's your style, not mine!"

"I /know/!" Guido shouted, and was abruptly silent. "I know," he repeated more calmly. "Why do you think I want you away from here?"

"So you can hand over /your/ name and life in trade? My God, you think I'm going to let you -"

"No. /No/. I intend to stay alive, and I do /not/ intend to give up my good name, but Hal, what I intend...I am placing us all in danger. Again. And I do not want it to be your hand that pens a note to Will and Angelo, I do not want it to be you retreating into command..."

"So not to me Horatio's pain, but a long life far from you? Guiltless and free from loss, perhaps never to know..." With sudden vehemence, Hal hissed, "You fool, /I would feel that loss if you were still in the steppes of Russia/!"

Guido shook his head, stepping back from Hal's unusual display of anger. "I never believed in that. You know I still don't."

"Well I do. We chose, Guido, remember? You and I..."

"I am /not/ discussing this! It was foolish. Childish. A schoolboy belief that did nothing!"

"It was more than that and you know it!"

Guido shook his head, silent, and Hal drew breath to refute everything he had trained himself to think over the years.

*

Their voices carried across the courtyard in the silent night, up to the open window of Elizabeth's office, where she sat working late, her mind set on the retrieval of the papers Guido had demanded. The earlier conversation, loud and furious though it had been, had done nothing to disturb her - Guido and Hal arguing over semantics and safety was nothing new, after all - but there was a sudden intensity about the quietness outside that drew her attention away from her work, and closer to the window, where she flattened herself against the wall, keeping herself away from the glass and her silhouette on the opposite side of the room, where they could not have seen it even if they looked up.

"It was a custom," Guido was saying. "A binding of blood-brotherhood that we read about in an old book and should never have bothered with. We would have held to all it asked of us anyway."

"Yes, we would. But - there have been times..."

"All right. I believe there have been - for you. But I - I feel nothing. If I could, I would never have believed in your death."

"Did you really?"

Elizabeth saw the sudden stillness in her employer's moonlit figure before ever the response she knew was coming reached her ears.

"I - no. No. But I - it was hope. I hoped so much, I - and then I blanked you out, sent you behind a steel wall so I would never have to think of you again. I was a month into my training before I managed that, and once I did - I had very little time for my teacher. I preferred to learn - by experience - and...Hal, it is not the assassin I became for Deveraux that I fear. It is the man I was before that, all hope lost, no comfort, no - you were gone. It was the end of all things. Gone from my memory, my heart, my mind...I had not known what that would do to me. But I know what it will do to you, if I should fail in this endeavour. I know what it has done to Horatio, and /I do not want this knowledge/!"

"To be that alone..." Hal sounded awestruck, contemplating a future without the strange companionship, natural as breathing, that had sprung up between two boys at the chilled end of an Italian winter, shaken them to the foundations of all they believed in and left them the stronger for it. "My God, to be that alone! He is so alone, how can he /bear/..."

"He is the commander." And there was a world of bleak emptiness in Guido's voice, an understanding that Hal seemed to share, his shoulders drooping in resigned acceptance.

"And so are you, and should you die, so shall I be." It was a cold truth, a promise to infinity.

"And that is yet another reason why we have to get Archie's name back, Hal. Horatio will not accept anything from us now, but we can give him some small comfort. We can let him know that not all loss is forever."

"Do you remember what that book said?" Hal's voice was light, curious, but Elizabeth saw Guido flinch.

"I remember. 'More intensely than consanguinity itself'. 'Spiritual kinship'. 'Friendship in life and death' - /yes/. I remember. I remember all of it. And I wish we'd never read the damn thing."

Hal was confronting Guido squarely, his demeanour unyielding. "And the rest? You were the one who learnt Slavic to translate it!"

Guido's shoulders drooped, his head falling forward. "I have never denied the truth of it. I do not believe the effects you are referring to are real - I have become convinced that they are imagined, but the truth of the sentiment - that I do not doubt. 'Friendship, when it involves two people who choose each other freely and with no end in mind but themselves, is also exceptional and unique, setting the friends apart from the rest of society'. I believed that then, and I believe it now, but that it grants anything more than spiritual kinship I contest. Strongly."

He brushed past Hal, and into the house, and Elizabeth caught her breath involuntarily as Hal looked up at her window. Apparently seeing nothing but the shades fluttering in the night breeze, he drew a deep breath, and switched his gaze to the stars.

"Oh ye of little faith," he murmured. "Have you never stopped to think what that phrase 'spiritual kinship' means?"

Then he, too, went inside, and Elizabeth fumbled her way back to her chair, gasping for breath as though she had been running.

What Guido and Hal had been discussing could get them into far more trouble than even their Catholicism. The practice of blood-brotherhood certainly wasn't unknown, had been mentioned more than once in the few books she had read on mediaeval knights, and it was not exactly surprising to find that the two men had made a blood pact. But that they would talk of spiritual kinship went, as Elizabeth knew, far beyond some chivalric rite. It meant that they believed it had created a bond between them that could transcend the physical - friendship in life /and/ death.

And Hal's words rang in her head as she picked up a pen in her shaking hand, adding numbers that the next day she was unable even to remember the source of.

//"You fool, /I would feel that loss if you were still in the steppes of Russia/!"//

Elizabeth quietly, and surprisingly devoutly, began to pray that no-one in the Anglican church ever, /ever/ found out about this.

And the part of her mind that Guido had so painstakingly begun to train started to wonder how this new information could be used to the advantage of the service.

*

The next day, they began their campaign within society, deliberately exposing their private grief for the world to wonder at. Guido had no idea how things were going for Hal, but he was /not/ enjoying himself. He had gone into his offices to see what was happening, and been greeted by several returned agents with no decorum and what they doubtlessly considered to be healthy senses of humour. He wondered if his spies had all lost their ability to note important details amidst the continual minutiae with which Addington's ministry beleaguered them, or if the sight of him in black was so usual as to provoke no comment whatsoever. By the time he was on the receiving end of yet another remark about the element to his appearance that /had/ caught their attention, however, he cared nothing at all for the why, and gave thought only to means of shutting them up.

"Hal bribe your barber, did he?"

"No, Mr Flanagan, I visited yours in error."

"Good heavens, di Cesare. Joining the new century at last, are you?"

"Sod off, Bulmer, or I'll send you to Antartica."

"'Ullo there, Conte. Sheep-shearing season, is it?"

"Hislop, I am a vindictive bastard. Go away before I find new ways of proving it."

"Hey, Conte, didn't anyone tell you it's Brummell sets the fashions?"

"Don't you have enough paperwork as it stands, Carr?"

"Good heavens. Well, it certainly is a change..."

"Why don't you take your comments and stuff them up - oh. Sorry, Spencer. What can I do - /please/ stop staring, my lord."

"You're in mourning."

"And you're the first person to notice. Which means either my agents all need a holiday, or they all need a refresher course with Flynn. You only have one guess as to which one I'm inclined to choose."

Spencer shook off Guido's smokescreen of words as though they were flies. "/Who/ are you mourning?"

Guido's head came up from where he was shuffling through papers, and his expression was frighteningly neutral.

"Lieutenant Archie Kennedy," he said tonelessly and Spencer drew a sharp breath, before going over and shutting the door.

"Di Cesare, have you thought about -"

"Long and hard. Open that door again, please, it's report and assignment day and I need access to my men."

"No, we need to talk. Now. I am not the First Lord anymore, but I do know this. If you make an issue -"

"I am not making an issue." Guido's voice was held even, flat and calm as a lake surface. "I am mourning a friend."

"You are flaunting your 'mourning' in the face of everything we are trying to contain."

"Is St. Vincent of the same mind?" flashed Guido, and there was sudden silence. St. Vincent, the only Addington-made replacement that Guido could stand, wanted corruption rooted out, and was making enemies left and right as he did so. It was the popular belief among Guido's men that this was the reason Guido liked him, though no-one, as yet, had been stupid enough to say so to his face. "I thought not. He will not stand for your 'containment'. And I will give him what he needs if I have to drag every name in the Admiralty down with me to do so. And believe me, Spencer, you will pass the word that this mourning is genuine. Because you do /not/ want me to have to explain it to everyone else."

He felt his face narrowing, the cheekbones heating with the faint flush that was a family trait - any emotion, all emotion, showed up in the di Cesares like a burn of red under their dark skin, a vivid streak of colour running across the nose and beneath the eyes. It looked like embarrassment, he knew, and was happy to have people continue to think so, as long as they did not guess at what it truly signalled.

The training Guido had received, long ago, was close to the surface now, and he put his hands flat on the desk to stop his fingers' desperate fluttering for weapons.

/For Lieutenant Kennedy/ he told his instincts, and swallowed down words and emotion together in a cold, hard lump that stuck in his throat, his face smoothing out and cooling as he breathed slow air in through his nose.

"Open the door, Spencer," he said quietly. "Now. And leave. These are my offices, and unless you have official business here, you have /no/ business here. Mr. Hislop!"

The door opened immediately, proving that a good training on how to eavesdrop was hard to shake off, and the short, sandy-haired man walked in without a trace of diffidence before two men who were supposed to be his social betters.

"Sir?"

Hislop, as ever, had managed the change from impudent Scottish jester to impassive professional seamlessly, and Guido felt a sudden rush of gratitude towards him.

"Lord Spencer was leaving. Escort him, please."

"Sir." Hislop made a small, polite gesture towards the door, and Spencer - kindly, brilliant Spencer, who had never done anything to hurt them, who deserved so much better than this - Spencer, who could not be allowed to know the truth, lest he be hurt more than Guido's sudden dismissal was doing - walked away, his handsome, gentle face creased in perturbation, though he remained silent.

Guido dropped into his chair, and ran his hands over his face, shivering with released tension. It was a while before he trusted himself to speak, and when he did, his voice was colder than ever, cutting through the air of his usually relaxed rooms like one of the knives he so longed to use.

"Mr. Bulmer, to the coderoom, please. Now. Mr. Carr, I am considering an assignment to Siberia. Unless you wish to head it, get out of here and down to the docks to see Flynn. Mr. Flanagan, you are supposed to be shadowing the Prime Minister - may I ask why you are not? Or should I hazard a guess that it stems from some deep desire to actually /let/ someone assassinate him? My God, gentlemen, I run an intelligence service, not a Sunday school - go to work, please!"

Hislop, one of the few men who had worked with Guido, as well as for him, returned after a discreet ten-minute absence, whistling loudly so as to warn of his approach, and received a rather tired smile for his reward, rather than a snarled demand for privacy.

"We have noticed, you know," he said quietly. "Anyway, Flynn told Carr last night in the tavern downstairs. We're - we /are/ sorry. For your loss."

Guido looked at him for a long moment, then nodded abruptly.

"Do you pray, Mr Hislop?"

"I'm a Scot, Conte, though perhaps you hadn'a noticed. Every night, every morning, and twice on Sundays, that's me. Why?"

"Then you can add this name to your list." Guido tossed a thick piece of paper across the desk. Hislop scanned it, and looked up with a frown.

"Well, aye, I'll gladly add your dead friend to my prayers, but -"

"Not the dead man, Mr Hislop. The living one. The man who signed this letter. Pray for him. Because it wasn't my loss - oh, in a way it was, any man whose friend dies must suffer loss, but - no. It was Captain Hornblower's loss. It is...for him..." Guido stopped, lost in thought, and whispered, almost to himself, "unendurable."

Hislop nodded. "Aye, we all have friends like that. There's many a man I'd miss and grieve the loss of here, but there's only one or two that I'd mourn to my grave."

Guido nodded. Hislop was one of the few men who had watched him transform from the embittered, sour assassin into the commander, and he trusted him to keep whatever they talked about private, just as they had, in post-mission states of euphoria and depression, picked each other up out of gutters both metaphorical and literal, and never breathed a word to Deveraux.

"It is his name I mourn," he said in explanation. "That is what drives me...that the man is dead, well - we all take that risk. I would grieve, but never - never this regret, this eating away of my soul, not if he were only dead. But that the Admiralty would take his name -!" he broke off, rising to his feet, and began to pace. "When I got that note, I could only curse the man who had written it, curse him because -" He sighed, and went to the window, staring out into the street below. "Because I had hoped for information. I had hoped for something - /anything/ that would serve as even an explanation's beginning. And all I got was the reality of someone's unbearable grief, staring me in the face. I damned him, Hislop, can you believe it? I damned the poor bastard for being human, when what I wanted was an automaton who would give me the kind of report I expect from you, or Carr, or even bloody Flanagan. I damned him because I, the great spy commander, did not get what I wanted." Guido's breath misted the window, and he continued, almost to himself, staring out at the world below as if he were in his own prison, and the glass were his iron cage, "And then I saw that pitiful bloody line for what it was, not for what it failed to provide for me, and I have never felt such grief for another in all my living days, nor such contempt for myself."

He swung around, facing Hislop, his black eyes glittering with what could have been pain or unshed tears, or simply the light from the window. "I want Archie Kennedy's name back," he said quietly, his jaw tense. "And I want you to know the truth. I want this rot stopped in the Admiralty, just as St Vincent does, and I think this has provided me with a way of accomplishing that. But that - that is separate. It is hard, and it will be a long and dangerous fight - but it is separate. It is about naval rules, it is about corruption, it is about a thousand errors that we should long since have corrected, and have instead let stand. Kennedy's name, on the other hand...I do not want that back for England - as far as I can tell, we don't bloody deserve a good man's name in any case. But Hornblower does. He deserves to be allowed to honour his friend's memory - to grieve and recollect without this taint of mutiny and treason. He deserves to be allowed to honour Archie's name as he should had the man fallen a hero and in battle. And /that/, Hislop, is why I am doing this. Not for me, not for the Admiralty - though I will use it there - not for my King, not for Pitt, not for anyone else. I am doing this for the Captain of the 'Retribution'." He swallowed suddenly, and added, very gently, "You see, he may not be my friend, but I am his. And I gave my word."

*

Hal's morning had been equally horrible. He had, somehow, been roped in to helping some poor soul learn the keyboard part to a song. Said unfortunate was supposed to accompany Wilberforce singing at some point - presumably at one of the incessant, dreadful music-making evenings to which the man liked to invite those whom he considered 'promising'. Hal had attended two before being so incredibly and deliberately offensive that even if Wilberforce had forgiven him, no-one else in the room was going to even if he committed ritual suicide and fell dead at their feet in apology. Which was perfect.

The song had not helped him in any way whatsoever, and by lunchtime, it was irrevocably stuck in his head.

/"Why /is/ this stupid thing called a carol, anyway?" he had asked, patiently correcting the man's terrible fingering for what felt like the thousandth time. "'S not even remotely religious."

"Oh - it's the type of song it is. Refrain, verse -"

"Spare me. Just - Christ, do you have thumbs, or sausages? - try to master this accompaniment before I'm forced to throw it in the fire, please."/

//And on this bed there lyeth a knight. His wound is bleeding day and night.//

Hal growled at the plaintive lyrics in his head, and tried to blot out the repeating music as he trudged up the stairs of his club to the quieter reading rooms.

//By his bedside standeth a stone, Corpus christi written thereon.//

"Mr Trevelyan, /please/ look where you're going."

Edrington. Hal groaned aloud, unthinkingly, and then shook his head. "Sorry," he mumbled. "You all right?"

"Perfectly, thank you," said Edrington shortly. "Are /you/?"

Hal wondered bleakly how long this was going to continue, that any kindness, /any/, even from My-Lord-Edrington, brought sharp tears to the back of his eyes and set his throat stinging, and merely nodded, about to walk on, when Edrington's hand on his arm stopped him.

/If I were Guido, I'd have cut that off,/ Hal thought with sour amusement, looking down at the blunt, soldier's fingers on the black broadcloth. He schooled his face to its blandest expression, instead, and drawled as slowly as he could - "Yes?"

"I - wanted to offer my condolences." Edrington actually sounded hesitant, Hal noted with distant amazement. But why would he -

/Oh, right, mourning clothes./

"Thank you," Hal managed a little numbly, coming up with a false smile.

"Not - anyone too close, I trust."

"No. Dad's still wandering around like something out of a bad penny dreadful, in case you were wondering. Sorry to disappoint."

"Mr Trevelyan, has anyone ever told you that you are /completely/ impossible?" Edrington was glaring at him now, hazel eyes bright with anger. "You are evidently distracted. I was /attempting/ to be of some help, though why I even /thought/ -" He cut himself off with a small gesture of disgust, and shifted his weight on the cane, preparing to move off. Hal opened his mouth, remembered what usually happened when he did that in Edrington's vicinity, and swallowed the words he had been about to say.

"Thanks," he mumbled eventually, and Edrington stopped, looking at him in surprise. Then he nodded, a single curt gesture of his head, and limped on.

//the falcon hath borne my mate away//

"Edrington!"

"Mr Trevelyan?" Edrington stopped in the middle of the corridor, half-turned below a portrait of a rather ancient-looking judge who seemed to have fallen asleep in his chair while the painter did his work.

"I - he was a lieutenant aboard the Renown. Kennedy. Archie Kennedy."

"/Are you mad/?"

Hal shook his head, feeling the shortened ends of his hair brush against the sides of his face as he did so. "Mourning," he said with a small smile. "Not mad. Difference to it."

"Not here there isn't - Trevelyan, my God, half these men have brothers, fathers, /family/ in the service, do you honestly think they're going to stand for you -"

"I'm not offering them a choice. I /am/ wearing black for him, and I am not going to deny the name - or would you have me change mine to Peter?"

"I would have you make some sense - Trevelyan, you didn't even know the man, how can you -"

"I did. I knew him well - as well as I needed to, at any rate. So long as I am in the room, I won't have him defamed."

"You aren't going to have a choice," said Edrington bleakly. "Because most of these people have been given the information - confidentially, of course - and surely to God you must see that those with whom you have chosen to surround yourself have nothing better to do than to discuss what they hear from their betters?"

"I know." Hal did not rise to the bait, nor did he show any signs that Edrington's scathing assessment of his circle was in anyway unwelcome. "I have decided it is time they had something more to talk about...I'm so /bored/ with vapidity!"

"You also seem to be bored with your own social standing - such as it is!"

"Oh, well done," purred Hal, and moved down the corridor towards Edrington slowly. "A palpable hit there, /my lord/ - and you're quite right. I'm intending to -"

"/Hal/!"

The voice was clear, and cold, and utterly commanding, stiffening Edrington's neck automatically, while Hal froze, the look of prowling antagonism dropped from his demeanour instantly.

"Mr Pitt. I didn't expect -"

"No, I am very sure you did not. My lord Edrington. How pleasant. Mr Trevelyan, you will come with me /now/."

"Whatever happened to Hal?" asked the object of this unwelcome attention, both eyebrows raised.

"I am quite sure you do not want me to answer that," came the dry response. "I need a word, please. In here."

Hal grimaced, and went, leaving a stunned Edrington in the hallway, staring at a closing door.

"What on /earth/ is going on?" he murmured.

*

"You are an unmitigated idiot, did you know that?" Pitt was looking Hal up and down with the expression that had once sent most of the Opposition retreating into terrified silence.

"Because I don't get on with Edgy out there? Oh come /on/, Pitt, he's -"

"Far more aware than you of what will happen should you take this course. The Earl of Edrington, whether you like it or not, is intimately familiar not only with the decision-makers attached to the Army, but with the other members of those circles in which you have made it your business to move. There is something more, Trevelyan, of which you should be aware - and which I am surprised the Conte did not mention to you - Edrington served with Kennedy and Hornblower. At Muzillac."

"Muzillac? Eh?"

"The Quiberon fiasco," said Pitt very dryly, and Hal flushed to his Elizabeth-chopped hairline, realising why Guido would have said nothing of this to him at any time - and would probably have advised both lieutenants to take a similar course of action, and maintain their silence.

"I - wasn't exactly on the same side, then," he muttered, and Pitt nodded.

"Wouldn't that count as an excellent reason to have kept your tongue behind your teeth, Mr Trevelyan?"

"Er - yes. Well, no, because - I didn't know. You were right, Guid' - Guido, I mean - he didn't say. Probably in the interest of not hurting me any more than this c-c-completely - oh, God damn it," he said wearily. "I'm going home. Someone's probably going to say something nice to me in about one minute, and I think I'm going to snap if they do. Guido's going to kill me - this was my shot at really /doing/ something, I promised him I'd fight at his side, and -"

"Then why aren't you there?" Soft, and lethal, and /Christ/, when was Hal going to stop forgetting about Pitt and words?

"Because -"

"Because nothing. If you are going to fight this - and from what I have heard I truly believe that you will - you need to do it together. If that means you prowling the docks, that is what you will do. If that means the Conte coming here, that is what he will do. I may not be your superior any more, but -"

"You are. Superior. I mean, I think you are."

Pitt snorted, and rubbed at his too-long nose. "Go home, Mr Trevelyan, before I feel inclined to take you there myself and /watch/ what your Conte does to you for attacking Edrington."

"I didn't -"

"Right." Pitt sighed, took Hal's arm, and steered him out into the corridor. "Do you think you could /try/ to go the rest of the way yourself?"

"I'm not drunk..."

"And somehow that's more frightening than anything else you've said today. Oh. It’s di Cesare's Whitehall day, isn't it. Well, I suppose I'll just have to stick you in here -" he re-opened the door, shoved Hal in with surprising strength, closed it, turned the key in the lock and called through the keyhole - "I'll send him a note."

"What the - hoy! /Pitt/! Let me - oh hell..."

*

"He's done /what/?" Guido's voice spun upwards in pure incredulity. Then he laughed. "Mr Hislop?"

"Mm'ha?" Hislop had his mouth full of sandwich, and was chewing briskly with a faint look of apology.

"How do you feel about shadowing Mr Pitt for the rest of today? Slightly obtrusively, you understand - just enough to make him feel on edge."

Flavian Hislop, who did many, many strange things in order to never have to introduce himself by his full name, vanished, still holding his half-eaten sandwich in one hand.

Guido, who had wondered if he would ever feel humour at anything again, re-read Pitt's note, and let laughter well out of him. Then he went to order his horse saddled, wondering just how Hal had managed to get out of this one.

*

Hal truly hated having to show exactly what kinds of physical strength he was capable of demonstrating, but there were times when it was, unfortunately, necessary. Being locked in a room in his own club, he felt, counted among them, and so he was busy climbing down a wall into the back street behind the club, preparing to make the drop as neatly and unobtrusively as possible from the last ledge.

Waiting for the jarring impact of his heeled shoes with the cobbles, he was surprised when he was caught and steadied before his feet could make contact, the force of his landing eliciting a small 'oof' from the person gripping him.

He grinned.

"'Lo, Guid'."

"Buon giorno, signor. Do you come here often?"

They both snickered helplessly at the bad joke, Hal getting his feet under him to lean against the wall as he laughed.

"How did you know?"

"You prefer going along walls - I prefer going up to roofs and then across and down. Some things never change. So I took a gamble on the direction - et voila! - one Mr Trevelyan dropped from the ledge - and onto my foot, by the bye, thank you so much."

"Sorry about the foot - did you know it was /Pitt/ who locked me up, by the way?"

"I did. He sent me a note." Guido smirked. "Hislop is following him. Conspicuously."

"Oh, /nice/," said Hal appreciatively. "That should make him beautifully flustered."

"Mm. Why did he feel it necessary to lock you up?"

"Um. I may have lost my temper. With Edrington."

"Oh, /Christ/, not again!"

"Er - not like that. More in a sort of 'do keep talking while I work out how to kill you' losing my temper sort of way. Pitt stopped me."

"And thank God for small mercies," murmured Guido. "So when he suggested in his note that I needed to keep an eye on you, was he right?"

Hal sighed. "Maybe. Yes. I think I need an anchor if we're going to do this. Sorry."

Guido shook his head. "Don't apologise. I do, too. Pitt is right. We have to do this together. On our own, we seem to be -"

"A little worse than useless?"

Guido grimaced. "A good deal worse, actually. Come on. We need to re-think our strategy. We need to prepare for a legal battle."

Hal nodded. "Where do we start?"

"With the transcripts. Elizabeth got the copies, at least." Guido's smile was mirthless. "It appears I pay my men for something after all. So - we need to be ready. To begin our case."

"I think...I can do that."

Guido nodded.

With that small head movement, and a few determined words, Guido and Hal, standing in an alleyway in the centre of London, were taking their first unwitting steps towards a dingy set of rooms and the suicide of the man they needed to prove their case.

And a ship of whose existence they knew nothing sailed towards England, carrying the man whose dead honour they were trying, against every law of the Admiralty, to defend.