Better Already
by Sue B.

 

Horatio, can you hear me?

Hmm. Judging from your complete lack of reaction, I'd say no.

I'll wait a little longer, then. It's not as though time is a problem for
me, anymore, and I'm not about to leave you sitting in this horrid, musty old
prison infirmary all alone. It was hard enough for me to endure this dreary
place, and I at least had company!

But you can't stay here forever, Horatio. Some other poor sot is bound to
need this bed, after all. Then they'll hustle you out of here, back into the
light and noise. So I don't mind staying with you, even if you can't hear
me, or feel my hand on your shoulder. You might not have many more quiet
times like these, and I'm glad to share this one with you, while it's here.
Even if you don't know I'm here.

I know, though. I suppose that's enough, for now.

I've been with you every moment since we last spoke, Horatio, and I'd give up
a thousand years in Paradise if I could just let you know it. I saw you close
my eyes, saw you weep as they placed me in the earth. God, Horatio, if you
knew the long, dark years I've endured when I believed no living being would
ever mourn for me, you would understand the gratitude at your remembrance
which filled my heart to overflowing. As you shed those bitter tears above
that lonely plot of earth, I wept beside you, wishing I could ease your pain.
I wish I knew if you felt the arm around your shoulders, the hand in yours.
I shall always hope you did.

But you weren't alone there, were you? Matthews was there, bless him, and
Styles. Never during those days on Justinian would I have ever thought
either of them would have shed a tear on my behalf. Friendship wasn't
encouraged there, you know, not the sort that binds men's souls. You did so
much for them, Horatio, gave them pride and valor, made them men His Majesty
can be proud of. Men unashamed to bear loss openly, and show what true
British hearts they possess. They're good men, Horatio, and I know you'll
see to it that their stalwart natures are rewarded.

And Bush was there as well! Astounded me, really, or it would have if it had
happened any sooner. You know, I didn't like him much at first,
Horatio-thought he was rather a prig-but I must say, if he had perished and I
survived, I would have stood beside his grave as he stood beside mine. How
can I help but have boundless respect for a man who would follow us both off
a cliff into the sea, knowing full well he couldn't swim? He trusted us,
Horatio, trusted you, as I learned to do so long ago, and at that moment
displayed the bravery and loyalty which marks a man of distinction.

When he agreed to come with me to make sure you survived the explosion at the
fort, I felt all objections to the man fall away. I do wish we could have
spent more time together, driving that fool Buckland to distraction!

But I know that I leave you, my friend, in Mr. Bush's capable hands. I hope
wherever you both go, you go together. You have no idea how he helped me,
when you were on trial and we were locked in the sick room. Had it not been
for his kindness, I never would have been able to...

Blast it, Horatio! I do wish you could hear me. I feel a perfect fool sitting
beside you, talking to myself!

You ought not to look so sad, Horatio. Did you hear me tell you it didn't
hurt? It didn't, you know. A bit uncomfortable, perhaps, but that quickly
passed. There's no reason to look so morose now. I did what I had to do,
freely, and without the slightest regret. A sullied reputation is so small a
thing, after all, and something I can easily bear. In a month's time nobody
out there will remember me; but I know that in the hearts of those I loved,
there shines a beacon of memory brighter than the grandest monument, which
all the great courts of the Earth could not mark with the slightest blemish.
As long as that tribute stands, what do I care for the opinions of the world?

My friend, if only I could show you how little cause you have for grief. Can
there be a reason to mourn now, that I am past all pain and sorrow? I told
you I was frightened, Horatio, but there was no reason to be. Even if I were
able to convey my thoughts to you, no words could possibly describe the quiet
peace that surrounds me now. I can't say I understand it, myself, but there
is nothing at all unnatural about it. On the contrary, it seems the most
natural thing in the world. I am where I should be, just as you are. We each
have our own shining destinies to follow.

Do you recall that day after we returned from Muzillac, when you and I stood
atop the topmast yardarm of Indefatigable with Styles, Matthews and Oldroyd?
The marvelous, free feeling of the sun on our backs, the wind on our faces as
that great ship bore us to the radiant horizon? You don't know how happy I
was to see that smile on your face, Horatio, after the heartbreak you
suffered. I believe we both felt the same that bright day, as if we were
beholding sunlight for the first time after a long and terrible darkness. As
we sped through the seas, I felt my spirit soar to such heights that it felt
as if I would be borne aloft, if I were only to let go of the mast.

The exhilarating joy of that day enfolds me now, Horatio, until I feel about
to burst from it. Surely, that cannot be a cause for sadness! If only I
could impart some of this serenity to you, and ease the heaviness of your
heart. If there is a way to do that, I will find it.

Horatio! Don't you know that I chose this final path for myself? Could you
not see that I died with a glad heart, knowing that I was able to secure for
you the future you were meant to command? It fills me with boundless joy, my
friend, to know that you are free, and able to rise to that pinnacle we both
knew you could attain. Had it been my choice, I would have risen to that
height with you. But since that was not to be, I did what I could to speed
your journey, and am content to stay at your shoulder unseen and give to you
the bravery I no longer need.

Perhaps you feel unworthy to accept my gift. Horatio, who could be more
worthy of it than you? You, who brightened those hellish days on Justinian,
when I saw for myself only a life full of pain and blight, who fought for my
life at El Ferrol when I would not have given a tuppence for it. You gave me
your hand and showed me the qualities in myself no one else had ever bothered
to look for. Who else should receive this, than the man who has fought by my
side and saved my life in every conceivable manner? I would do this for no
other soul on Earth, Horatio. You lifted me to the light; now, I lift you to
the stars. A fair exchange, I would say, and when you reach those stars I
will be above you, watching your every step with pride too great for words.

I fear my time grows short, Horatio. You can't see it, I'm sure, but the
room is filling with the most warm and glorious light. It's astonishing to
see how different this rank infirmary looks now-even old Clive wouldn't
recognize the place. But it's getting harder to see you.

Let me put my arm around you once more, Horatio, and take your hand in mine.
This is not good-bye, do you hear me? It sounds daft to say I know this, but
I do. I will be with you, Horatio, through all the trials and joys which lay
ahead for you. When the storms of war and nature lash the deck of your first
command, I will be whispering encouragement in your ear. When you walk the
quarterdeck in the golden sunset, I shall be beside you on the gentle evening
breeze. When you face the myriad agonies which always plague those of great
talent, I will be at your shoulder, doing all in my power to lift your
burden, as you once lifted mine.

And when you take to your wedding chamber...well, on second thought, I
believe I shall put myself elsewhere that night. There are times when even a
man's dear friend must allow him some privacy!

But rest assured I will not desert you as in the following years, as you
watch your children grow to carry on your steadfast principles of honor and
duty. I will be with you, my dear friend, until that day when our hands
shall clasp once more, and our eyes meet again in joyful recognition. There
will be new seas to sail then, Horatio, with no fear of pain or parting, and
I daresay we'll have a ship and crew the hosts of heaven themselves will envy!

I must go, Horatio, for now at any rate. I can barely see you; the room
seems almost ablaze, but it's so beautiful I can almost forgive the fact that
it is quite obscuring everything around me. The flights of angels have
finally arrived, I suppose, and it would be quite rude of me to keep them
waiting.

And here is Commodore Pellew to see you as well. Perhaps he will have some
words to lighten your spirit. I pray you, listen to them, Horatio, and don't
let your sadness blind you to the future you were born for. England needs
you, as do the men who fight for her. They will find no better champion.

I will say no good-byes. I will only wish you farewell and good fortune,
until I return to your side once more. The prison doors have opened,
Horatio, and the time has come to step through them to the brilliance
awaiting beyond. We should rejoice for each other, Horatio.

For now, we are both free.