"Your capitaine, he does not like me."
Andre sat in his hammock, in his shirtsleeves, his arms wrapped 'round his knees, and his hands clasped pensively. The hammock swung dangerously, and he was clearly doing his best to touch as little of it as possible.
William cleared his throat. "Major--"
"Non, non - but he does not like me. You see the way he looks at me. He does not trust me, ah? Because I am French. He hears my accent, the way I speak, and so!" He threw up his hands. "He does not trust me. That is the trouble with you English. Perhaps I do not trust you because you speak with your own accents, perhaps that, ah? You brand me with my voice."
"Major, I am sure that-- No. No, you're right. But he does not trust you; it is a different thing from disliking you, I assure you. He does not 'dislike' you."
"But I have not his trust. I assure you, Bush, that is worse than having his dislike. I cannot earn his trust unless I change my voice and my name and wear one of your blue uniforms. I must tell him, if I want his trust, that somewhere behind me is a girl in tears with no husband, non? He would trust me then. I must let my hair unbound and leave myself unshaven. I must swagger and spit and curse, and then your capitaine, he would trust me at last, as he does his men."
Andre smiled sideways at him, shaking his head. "Of course. He trusts you. A fine lieutenant, as you say. And you are honourable as I. And very well kept, I see." He paused. "But you are English. And that is what makes us different. If I were not a Frenchman, could I be in your same place? Perhaps. It's all that matters on these ships. English or French. As a Frenchman, I am evil. I can hate Bonaparte, and shoot the men from my own country for you and yours, but I will still be evil as long as they can hear my voice."
"Major, it's not your voice that matters. The French have always been the enemy. We're unused to trusting them."
"And which of your superior officers are you quoting now? Bush, you have readdressed me every time you've spoken to me. I know who I am. Major Cotard, who cannot earn a place. Major Cotard, who does not belong on this ship. Can I call it a ship? It is far too small for that."
"I have noticed you're in danger of losing your hat when you walk below decks." William attempted a smile of his own.
"If you are trying to achieve the same... dry wit... as M. Hornblower, you are succeeding. He is not so amusing as all that, and yet you laugh at his quips. Is this part of respecting an officer?" Andre shook his head again. "I do not understand you."
William walked over to stand beside Andre's hammock, looking sternly down at him. Andre didn't look up, uninterested.
"Don't you?" asked William.
"I am proud, Bush, that I am not an Englishman. I am proud of what I am. But I want to be your equal, and not some French dog. If you want someone to mistrust, why not one of your Irishmen? I believe they are very untrustworthy."
"You sound bitter, Major."
"I am... not bitter, Lieutenant. I am merely pointing out--"
"Some British sailors aboard this ship would have been as quick to say whatever the Irish one has said to you, but only those who have no respect for you."
"Ah, but you do not see. None of them respect me. That is what I have been saying. You are not such an ill-mannered lot, are you, but that I have baited you by my country? And now I am standing alone pretending not to hear any of it, and venting to you when no one else can hear me."
"Yes, it must be hard to keep that expression of boredom all day long, Major."
Andre closed his eyes and straightened his back with dignity. "That expression is what they call a shield, Bush."
"I know." William rested a hand on Andre's shoulder, in a gesture that would be considered comfort between friends, saving that the men were not friends. William had shared this gesture with Horatio before, but would never have thought of sharing it with a Frenchman. He stood, surprised, while Andre stiffened beneath his hand.
"I'm sorry, Major," he said quietly. "I cannot make the men respect you."
"There is no need for that," said Andre, a bit too loudly. "I do not need the respect of a few sailors to survive in the world."
"Of course not." He took his hand back.
"The trust of one would be enough. You do not trust me either, for your capitaine does not. Is not that so?"
"Perhaps I don't. We are both men. Today, we fight on the same side. Do you need my faith?"
"I thought not." William returned to his own hammock and lay down. He watched the ceiling contemplatively. "Do you need anyone's faith, do you think?"
Andre looked over at him. "Why do you ask me? Do you intend to give me yours?"
"One never knows what constitutes as trustworthy. Perhaps even a Frenchman..."
"Ah, that is kind of you."
"Only kind?" It was not a question. "After all your talking, I'd have expected it to be more than kind. You insist that it's what you want, and then are too unenthusiastic to convince me you spoke the truth. Now, how am I to trust you, Major?"
Andre stood, with only a little undignified tangle with the hammock, and moved to William's side. William in turn looked over, his eyebrows raised. Andre stayed indecisively for a few moments, and then finally spoke:
"It was more than kind. And I thank you for the gesture. It is just that I fear you are insincere."
"We have both reduced ourselves to one trying to trip the other up with our long words and silly conditions, Major. I do trust you, if only because I can see you mean the things you say. You are rather lost here, aren't you? On an English ship, with no friends, and only the far-off Admiral Pellew to protect your name. I trust you. I'm trying to understand. Can I support you with that?"
"You can. You are." Andre dropped to the floor, sitting cross-legged, his head level with the edge of William's hammock.
"I'm glad," William told him sincerely. "Now, I trust you won't feel quite so solitary aboard this ship. You shan't have to fend for yourself." He smiled at the ceiling, wondering what had gotten into him.
Andre looked over at him, only his eyes and forehead visible over the rim of the hammock. William stifled a small laugh at the picture before himself, and reached out a hand, setting it upon Andre's head.
"Companionship. Works wonders."
"Indeed." Andre took his hand and seemed about to take some action, but instead closed his eyes and stood. "Then, bonne nuit, M. Bush." He turned away and climbed awkwardly back into his own hammock.
William laughed, and stretched his hand across the gap between the hammocks. Andre put out his hand as well and caught William's.
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
"Please, you may call me William, as Captain Hornblower does."
"I already make a fool enough of myself saying your surname, Bush. I shall not take on your first."
"As you wish." William tugged on Andre's hand a little, setting both their hammocks swinging gently. "Now, come and be rocked to sleep, Major. English ships sing songs in their timbers just as well as French frigate lullabies."
They fell into silence. Ten minutes later their fingers slipped apart as both men sank into sleep.
Andre pulled his red coat on over his waistcoat, his back to William as they dressed in the morning. Neither of them spoke, but not in any uncomfortable pause. It was a gentle quiet, and neither of them minded it.
At last, Andre faced William, ducking his head with a brief smile.
"You look dapper this morning, Major. I trust you slept well."
"Very well, thank you, Bush."
"That is good. Well rested, and ready to face whatever God intends for you, be it for divine amusement or for your own well-being.."
Andre paused for a moment. "Yes. It is easier, I think, with your assurance--"
"Damn my assurance, Major. Best slap on that bored look for the benefit of the crew and Captain Hornblower. Armour is a useful thing at any time."
"Yes, of course."
William looked over his shoulder and smiled. "You're ready. No worries, Major."
"Excellent." William turned back and left the room. Andre followed him out.
"Day any easier, Major?"
"A little. Thank you for your concern, Bush." Andre swung dispiritedly in his hammock. "The looks the crew gave me were diminished in their sting by the promise that you could laugh at me when I returned here."
"I do not intend to laugh at you, Major."
"As I told you yesterday, I know who I am."
"Surely you don't plan to give me this lecture again?" William placed his hands on either side of Andre's hammock. "No, indeed, Major. You know who you are. And who I am to give you courage? Not the Captain, with the Captain's power over the men. Nor I am the crew, and therefore I cannot stop the 'looks' you receive. But I shall do my best to be... to be a friend. If you wish it."
Andre closed his eyes wearily. "I wish it."
William kissed his forehead. "I'm glad. Good night, Major."
"Bonne nuit, Bush."
Andre listened to William climb into his hammock, and listened to him breathe until he slept. Then Andre lay awake for a long while, feeling hope rise warmly in his chest. At last, he smiled across the gap between them and fell asleep, still facing the dark lump in darkness that was William.
A friend...? An English friend. Imagine that.
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