Horatio and Archie: Conversations
by Michele

Part 2: Papillon Raid

[The Duel (or, The Even Chance). This scene takes place between the
conference/briefing in Pellew's cabin regarding the raid on
Papillon and the "Old Jack's missed you, boy" scene. We
don't
know exactly how much time there WAS between these two scenes, but I
doubt the raid took place immediately after the briefing (I don't
think there would have been enough time to organise the raiding party
had there NOT been a long enough interim) So for the sake of
artistic
licence, I'm going to assume there was enough time for the
following
conversation...]

 

*The midshipmen's berth is deserted,* Archie thought gratefully.
To say that he was unnerved at Simpson's reappearance - and
subsequent assignment to THEIR raiding boat - would be a
dreadful
injustice to that word. *Everyone must be on deck, or on watch...
Maybe just a few minutes will help me to --*

Horatio, who had been just a moment behind him all the way from the
Captain's cabin, came in before Kennedy could finish his thought.
He looked concerned, and was a bit out of breath.

"Archie, are you all right?" he asked, also noting with
relief the emptiness of the berth.

"I - I just need a few minutes, Horatio..." Kennedy sat
down heavily at the well-worn oaken table, straddling the bench. His
young voice was tentative, and sounded even younger than usual.

"We do have a little time before high water..." Hornblower
tried to sound casual, but all the while he was remembering the look
of sheer horror on his friend's face at Lt Eccleston's last
words. He
also had not forgotten that, whilst he had gained a new confidence
courtesy of the Marie Galante incident, Archie had not been afforded
such an advantage, and would be feeling more vulnerable than he
himself would be.

"A little..." Kennedy agreed, absently.

Silence. Awkward silence.

"Archie," Horatio began gently, taking a seat across the
table from his friend, "I wanted to - I mean, you left
Captain
Pellew's cabin so quickly..." *As if you were flying out of
Hades
itself,* he thought to himself.

Archie looked up, his blue eyes large. "Horatio, how could this
be? How could he be here? HERE?? NOW? I thought it was over... I
thought -" His gaze fell downward, as he flailed his hands in
a gesture of futility and helplessness.

"It IS over, Archie," Hornblower said earnestly, leaning on
the table. "Those days of Justinian are gone. Simpson is no
longer
a part of our lives. We have a different life here - Pellew
will
never allow anything like - well, it's just different, my
word on it."

Kennedy looked up in surprise. "How can you SAY that, Horatio?
I saw your reaction during the briefing. It was almost as bad for
you - remember, you challenged him to a duel! You can't sit
here
and tell me you didn't have the same thoughts I did in that
conference just now - that you didn't hear the same echoes
of terror
and humiliation resonating in your head that I did!"

*He has me there,* Hornblower admitted to himself. There HAD been
that long moment during the briefing where he had locked eyes with
his friend, where both had, for that terrible moment, been
transported back to Justinian, and Simpson's reign of terror over
a couple of young, inexperienced, and eminently vulnerable midshipmen
who'd had no choice but to take it. Now, how to convey to his
friend that it HAD been just that only a moment, and only a
recollection, and not present reality?

"All right, Archie... I DID have those same thoughts," he
finally answered. "Those early days were terrible indeed. But
that
is the past, and we must learn to leave it there. We have work to
do."

"That's just it, Horatio. What if - well, what if I
-" Kennedy
cleared his throat. "You know what happened to me the LAST time
he returned... Oh Horatio, it's always like this - just when
I've convinced myself it's over, just when I think it's
safe and I
can get on with my life, he's there again."

"But just because -"

Archie wouldn't let him finish. "This is an important
mission. Very delicate, and quite dependent upon the element of
surprise. What do you think would happen with the mission - to
all
of you - and ultimately to me if I were to have another
fit?"

There. He'd said it. What they had both been thinking, what
they had both been fearing, since Eccleston had "pronounced
sentence." What to say NOW?

Hornblower rose and came round to the bench where Archie was
sitting. He took a deep breath, then sat down next to his friend.

"You can't think like that, Archie... We are midshipmen in
his majesty's Navy, and we cannot afford to -"

"Oh Horatio, don't you think I KNOW all that??" Kennedy
looked his friend in the eye, his own blue eyes practically pleading.
"That's what is making it all the worse! I don't know if
I can do
this - I -- I'm not as strong as you are..."

"Archie," Horatio said, firmly but quietly, "you have no
IDEA how strong you are. And I fear you tend to underestimate
yourself. Remember, you were here in the Navy before I was, and
you've had to endure much more from that demon Simpson than I
ever
had to. And yet, you ARE still here. A lesser man might have
deserted long ago. A lesser man might have -" He tried to say
it.
He HAD to say it, because he knew deep down that it was true. "A
lot
of men might have just taken matters into their own hands, while it
takes true strength to simply endure and do one's duty, no matter
what..."

Archie wasn't sure he knew what he was hearing.
"Horatio..."

"I believe," Hornblower went on, as if driven by some flash
of insight, some sense that destiny was knocking on their door,
demanding to be fulfilled, "that the day will come when you show
yourself to be twice the man I could ever HOPE to be..."

Kennedy searched his friend's earnest brown eyes and saw that he
was sincere. He had no idea where Horatio was coming from with this,
and he still wasn't convinced, but he knew that Horatio believed
it.

"I - I don't know..."

"Yes you do, Archie. You DO know. You know I'm right, you
know you're a good and strong man, and you know you can do this.
We'll board Papillon, we'll do our duty, we shall take that
Frog ship,
and we'll be back here by the forenoon watch, indulging in spirits
far earlier in the day than ever a man has a right to, just to
celebrate!"

Kennedy had to admit, his friend's confidence was contagious.
Despite himself, the corners of his mouth began to turn upward, be it
ever so tentatively. *It WOULD be quite a thing,* he thought,
*to take that Frog ship DESPITE Simpson's presence...and it would
show that bloody Simpson once for all. No more bowing to him. No
more fear. A bright future in his majesty's Navy. Lieutenant.
Perhaps one day even Captain. Yes, Post Captain would be quite the
thing for the third son of a lord. And wouldn't it be something
indeed, to one day COMMAND that demon Simpson?*

"Double portions, Horatio?" Archie's blue eyes were
starting to regain just a hint of their old spark, though a slight
shadow did remain behind them.

"Would anything else do for the victors, Archie?" Horatio
smiled, cautiously, ever mindful of that shadow. "But for now we
must prepare. The time is very close, and we must report."

"Aye, we must," Kennedy agreed, quietly, as the two friends
rose from the bench and began their exit. Neither had realised that
Archie had forgotten his hat. But there would be a few more moments
before high water, were he to remember, to come back for it... And
nothing could happen, in such a short space of time, to change the
way he was feeling now...