Horatio and Archie: Conversations
by Michele

Part 1: Wrong War, End

[The Wrong War (Or, The Frogs And Lobsters). Scene:
Indefatigable's wardroom, some weeks following the end of The
Wrong War...]

"Horatio..." Archie hesitated. "There's something
I've been meaning to ask you for a while."

"Yes, Archie?"

"Well... why did you leave me alone back at that bridge? You
knew.... " Kennedy lowered his eyes. "Forgive me, Horatio
I have no business questioning you about this..."

"No, Archie, it's all right..." Hornblower smiled
reassuringly, but with some concern. "I may outrank you, but
friendship knows no rank."

Archie cleared his throat, both relief and determination on his young-
looking features. "Well, you knew how hard it was for me to be
back on the continent... You saw my fear... After that first attack,
how I panicked... How could you leave me alone like that and for
" He stopped, looking embarrassed.

"Say it..."

" -- for someone you hardly even knew... Horatio, we've known
each other for a long time already, endured torment from Simpson, and
months in that Spanish prison... We've not missed a thing... I
was there when you started having those dreadful nightmares where you
always woke up feeling the weight of guilt for bringing the men back
to that forsaken place..."

Horatio spoke quietly, looking down at his hands. "And you..."

"Aye, and me... And you saw me through the fits that suddenly
started again -- when I felt I couldn't bear for one more moment
being there..."

Hornblower could not help but think of his recent loss; still quiet,
he was unable to look up. "We were there for each OTHER,
Archie..."

Archie looked surprised. "Yes, Horatio, we were... And
that's why I could not understand your..."

Horatio met his friend's eyes, and spoke softly.
"Abandoning you?"

Barely audible: "Yes..."

Horatio had been prepared for this, but still, hearing the accusation
took him aback. It also cut him to the quick because he knew that
Archie was right. He was still so ashamed of himself for behaving
the way he had, at Muzillac, and these past few weeks his shame had
only added to his grief.

"Archie, I... You're absolutely right, that's exactly
what I did, and I've not been able to live with myself since...

"Well then, why?" Archie's blue eyes were almost
pleading. He was still hurting, but he saw that Horatio was too; yet
he still needed to know why...

"The truth is I was afraid."

"You?"

"My first command as a commissioned Lieutenant exciting,
yes, but also frightening. I could see in Captain Pellew's eyes
that something was troubling him deeply, so something troubled me as
well. I knew as well as he did that we hadn't much chance of
surviving that mission..."

Kennedy looked surprised. "You never let on...'

"No." Hornblower looked down at his hands again, and was
silent for a moment. He leaned forward. "Archie, I didn't
know if any of us would make it out of France alive. I know that
what I did was inappropriate for an officer in his majesty's
Navy.
But I suppose part of me was feeling as though I'd never
lived..."

"Horatio?"

"*You* know... "

Archie nodded, and spoke softly, without accusation. "It was
like that for us all, Horatio..."

"I know..." Horatio looked down again and did not speak for
some time.

In that long interval, Kennedy didn't know what to say, or if he
should say ANYthing. A swirl of different emotions ran through him:
He realised that he'd sounded a bit like he was feeling sorry for
himself, and knowing of his friend's present vulnerability and
pain over his recent loss, that was the LAST thing he wanted at this
point. Again he was reminded of the uncertain nature of life in his
majesty's Navy, and that they had accepted that vulnerability as
a way of life. It was true what Horatio had said moments before:
That they were there for each other, though men did not generally
speak of such things. Life in the Navy was also about strength, by
its very nature showing the enemy you have no fear. But in
war, as in life, there are all KINDS of enemies. And in war,
sometimes the greatest battles are fought in the mind, and the
greatest victories won over oneself.

"Horatio," he said at length, "are you all right? I know
it must have been very hard for you..."

Hornblower cleared his throat and looked up. What a thing to have
such a friend, who could put himself aside thusly! And what an
inexpressible comfort, to be able to speak freely, in this life of
decorum and duty. "It IS hard, Archie... I realise I didn't
know Mariette for very long, but there was something there... I could
FEEL it... It could have been something special, given the
chance..." He broke off again, and looked down at the strong oak
planking of the wardroom floor. It was solid, reliable, comforting.
The ship made him feel safe, in an uncertain world.

"Perhaps..." Archie agreed gently.

"I suppose it just reminded me of other losses..." There had
been too many in Horatio's young life: His mother, Williams,
Clayton, Bunting (for whose death he still felt painfully
responsible, and which still plagued his nightmares), Hunter, and
now, Mariette.

"I know..."

"An officer in his majesty's Navy..." Hornblower
murmured, seeing Pellew's stern but reassuring face in his
mind's eye.

"Horatio?"

"Something Captain Pellew said to me when we returned, Archie. I
--
I've not been able to speak of it as yet, but when he
called me to his cabin, I - well, I broke down..."

"I know, Horatio..." Archie repeated.

Hornblower looked up at Kennedy, reassured at the understanding he
found in his friend's eyes, and managed a tentative smile.
"He said that as officers in his majesty's Navy, we must
always set an example for our men, no matter what may befall us, no
matter what we may be feeling... We have a duty to them, to
ourselves, and to our country. That is our first priority, and our
ever-present concern." Horatio's barely-there smile
disappeared.
"And I... I forgot that for a time..."

Archie leaned forward and spoke earnestly. "Horatio, listen to
me. You didn't forget anything you merely showed yourself
to be human. An officer in his majesty's Navy, aye, but a man as
well, and a young one at that. We, both of us, Horatio, have been so
well occupied in our duty, our adventures and adversities -"
Horatio
was startled at his friend using the very words Pellew had said to him
""-that we've had little time or occasion to ponder such
things as
these. But we are both young, and though we have already seen much
in our lives - probably TOO much in some ways - I expect we
shall yet experience much more in this life, make many mistakes, know
much pain, and also know great triumphs."

Horatio had been listening intently to his friend; sometimes he
marvelled at his depth, and wondered if it may have something to do
with all the time he had spent in the theatres of London. Even a
young man can gain great insights into human nature by studying
presentations of the human condition, in all sorts of situations.

But more than that, he marvelled at Archie's ability to bounce
back from all the pain he had endured, first at Simpson's hands,
then at those of the Dons. The way Archie had covered his fear of
returning to "that side of the channel" with all those
terrible jokes. Terrible, perhaps, yet funny and strangely
effective. For both of them. At once Hornblower felt ashamed at his
own self-indulgence in the sins of self-pity, guilt, and cocky
pride. He knew he must take a lesson from his friend, and try to put
it all aside -- even though it still hurt -- and move along with his
life.

"I believe you are right, Archie," he finally said, with a
new brightness about him, which at first, admittedly, was slightly
forced, but soon grew into his old confidence. "And... thank
you... for everything..."

Archie smiled a knowing smile. And as the two friends' eyes met,
it was as it had been when they had first returned to
Indefatigable's welcoming deck after that last, disastrous
mission, with the same understanding and unconditional caring and
acceptance; but this time, with a feeling of triumph, of mutual
gratitude, and of hope and strength to face tomorrow.

"As the Dons would say, Horatio, de nada." Kennedy's
blue eyes twinkled and his smile was mischievous. "Now, enough
of this idle chatter - I'm dreadfully hungry, and we've
just enough time for a light meal before the next watch. Let us go
and vex Cook to see what scraps we can beg, before he calls upon the
marines to bodily remove us!"

Archie clapped his friend on the back, and the two officers laughed
heartily as they rose and left the wardroom.