A Life of Duty: Archie and Josephine
Scene: Archie's room at the "Lion's Heart" Tavern
"Archie, please tell me all that I don't already know." Josephine said as she looked deeply into his eyes.
"It's been horrible." he started, "How could I have let him die?" Josephine just sat, holding his hand. His eyes frantically searched her face for answers. "Lord Edrington charged me with Horatio's well-being, and I failed."
"When did he do that, my love?" Josephine's eyes filled with tears of helplessness in the face of Archie's pain as she gently caressed his hand.
"After that day at the bridge at Muzillac." Archie's eyed focused on their joined hands. "Everyone blames me for still being alive. He was..." His voice caught as Josephine's grip on his hand tightened.
"Archie, you've been trying so hard to be strong for everyone, but you don't have to be with me" Josephine said gently, and her words forced him to look at her. "What makes you think everyone blames you?
For a moment they sat in silence. "He is...was... a much better officer than I am, could ever be." As she looked at him, he saw her partisanship hadn't changed. "You don't believe me," he continued with a weary smile. "In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, you always felt I could do anything."
With a trace of a smile, she said, "We're going to be married soon, so my feelings should be very important." In response to her gentle teasing, he gave her a half-grin.
"I brought his sea chest to his father. Oh, Josephine, I've never done anything so difficult! I...he..." he paused before finishing in a rush, "I feel so responsible!"
Josephine took a deep breath, and pulled away from him. With slow steps, she walked around and leaned on the back of the chair in which she'd been sitting. Her green eyes darkened as she watched him, now sitting with his head in his hands. "Why don't you start at the beginning. I know there is much you didn't tell me in your brief missives. I will be better able to understand your feelings of responsibility, as I understand their context."
Archie looked up at her, his eyes haunted by all the things he'd never said or wanted her to know. With a groan, he looked down at his hands.
"I don't know where to start. You're right, there are many things I shielded you from, and I won't burden you with them now." His voice had grown distant and his eyes were unfocused. Josephine's expression echoed her concern.
"Archie! Look at me!" her voice rang out sharply in the small room.
Startled, he looked up. Relieved, Josephine visibly relaxed.
"You know me too well, my little love." he said with a smile. "I'm fine."
"It's just..." she sat back down, "this is the type of situation which makes your condition worse. I've worried about that."
"Horatio knew about it, and he took care of me when they happened." his eyes filled with tears that didn't fall. "They do come and go, you know, and I've gone for months, even years, without one before they reappear."
"Archie, you're evading my questions. Talk to me." Archie heard the slight exasperation underlying the pleading in her voice.
He looked down at his hands, his face paling, and the image of Simpson rising before him. For what seemed like hours, they sat, not speaking. Finally, he looked up at her, his eyes deeply shadowed.
"Things have happened that I'll never tell anyone." he said quietly.
"Was this was for nothing, then?" She asked softly, her eyes huge. He opened his mouth to explain, but she continued, "I threw away my reputation to join you here because you told me you needed me. You've even forgotten our new title."
He sat dumbfounded before standing and taking her hands. She tried to pull away, recoiling into herself. As he let her, his eyebrows knitted in concern. He realized he recognized that behavior - as one of his own.
"Josephine?" he tried to catch her gaze, but she wouldn't look up, "I sometimes forget you don't have the freedom to come and go as you choose. This wasn't for nothing. What did you mean? 'Our new title?" he asked with a brief flash of interest.
"Our new title - you will become Viscount Kenney of Silverthorne when we marry." her voice had filled with pride as she announced his name and rank.
Archie shared her smile before realization of her rank change sank in. "You are the Viscountess Silverthorne now, aren't you?"
"Yes," her eyes danced with her smile.
"Why did you let me continue calling you 'Lady Silverthorne'?" he asked.
"That is how you've always known me, my love," for a moment she rested her fingertips on his forearm. "I thought it would be best to remind you of that change in private."
Archie sat in silence before he secured for her hand, and reached into his pocket to pull out some paper. Her curiosity piqued, Josephine sneaked a peek at Archie's face for a hint as to his feelings before focusing on the papers.
"What are those?" she asked quietly.
Archie's face was creased with the pain of looking at Horatio's handwriting. Her question pierced through that pain, and, his blue eyes brimming with tears, he handed them to her without a word. As soon as she took them, he turned his back to her and walked to the window. She almost asked him again about the notes, but opened them instead. Quickly, she read them. She could see where Archie had crushed them and shed tears over them, and as she saw the quotes she too began to cry.
"You lent him the book I gave you..." she commented quietly. Archie turned back to her and nodded. He gazed at the notes in her lap, and couldn't speak. "Did he ever say anything about the inscription inside the front cover?" His eyes returned to her face.
"No, he never did. I'm sure he was curious about it though." For a brief moment, his eyes were merry, but then the pain returned. "Did you read ALL the quotes?"
"I think so," her voice sounded uncertain, and tight with the sound of unshed tears. She turned both notes over and gasped as she saw the final quote. Archie watched her lips move as she read it. Without thinking, and with all exasperation completely forgotten, she walked over to him. Silently, they embraced.
"He remembered how excited I was to be transferred to the Indy." Archie murmured into her hair.
"Was the Justinian so bad?" Josephine looked up at him as she asked, and saw the shadow that dropped into his eyes. "Archie, you've never told me about that time - not really. What happened there?" her voice had grown a bit distant, but Archie could still hear the concern penetrating her tone.
He slowly pulled away and sat on his bed. Josephine watched him as he sat silently and still. He mutely gazed up at her, and all she could think of was how much that expression resembled the hound his brothers had tormented when they all were children. Without thinking, she sat down next to him. At first he pulled away, almost with a flinch, before he stiffly let her take his hand.
"Those were horrible days, Josephine," his voice sounded as distant as his demeanor looked, "and thing happened on that ship no one should know about."
He looked down at their clasped hands, and, as he did, his hair fell over one eye. Josephine reached up to push it back, but froze, her hand extended, as he jerked away with a gasp. Despite his attempt to hide it, she had seen his look of terror as he pulled away.
"Archie, my love, it's me!" she whispered, as she moved to kneel before him. As he saw her submissive post and concerned face ,he seemed to be drawn out of whatever hell he'd fallen into. With a low sound, he crushed her to him, apologizing for his behavior. Gently, she smoothed his hair as tears slid silently down her cheeks.
"Horatio was so much stronger than the rest of us." Archie mumbled. "He tried to help, but a good man died in the process. None of us meant for that to happen."
Josephine remained silent as she kept smoothing his hair. Gradually she felt him start to relax. His words kept floating through her mind, and she pieced them together with his notes. "Mr. Clayton tried to help. Was that the duel Horatio was supposed to fight, but didn't?"
Archie again tensed, but she didn't let him pull away. He knew she expected an answer, and so the expectant silence grew.
"Who did Mr. Clayton fight, my love? You never told me, and I did not ever get the chance to ask Horatio."
"It was just another midshipman. His name isn't important." Archie tried to act nonchalant, but his tenseness and tone of voice belied his words.
Josephine watched him, and finally he continued, "His name was Jack Simpson."
After the name was uttered, silence descended. Archie's face was grey, and his blue eyes were clouded with remembered pain. Slowly, Josephine resumed her seat next to him.
"Archie," her soft voice cut through the tension-filled silence of the room, "please look at me." Reluctantly, he turned his gaze to her face to see her tears overflowing for him. "I'm sorry I hurt you, but I had to know. You don't have to tell me anything else."
"You do understand, don't you?" his eyes widened with wonder, "Horatio...."
"Horatio did what you could not, and you loved him for it, even as you were jealous of it." Josephine looked back at him unblinkingly.
Archie nodded as his colour started to come back. "How did you know? I never told anyone my feelings about him."
Wanly Josephine smiled, "You did not have to tell me. I could see it in your face. Don't worry, unless there's someone else here who's known you since you were a child, no one else can see it."
"This is why I wanted you to come." Archie said as he touched her face. "You know me in ways no one else does. Will you come with me to Portsmouth? I want you to meet Captain Pellew."
Blushing slightly, Josephine lowered her eyelashes. "Archie, my reputation...I...."
"Will you marry me in Portsmouth with all my shipmates looking on?" Archie blushed deeply as he dropped to one knee in front of her.
"It would be my honour." Josephine's eyes filled with happy tears, just as Archie's smile turned bittersweet. "I think Horatio would be proud of you." She murmured in his ear.
Archie smiled to himself as he buried his face in her hair. "I think you're right, my little love."