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Horatio and Archie: Conversations
by Michele

Part 3, Duchess & The Devil: "Nightmares"

[The scene: The cell in the Spanish prison. The first night that
Horatio and Hunter are there. Hunter has exhausted himself into a
sound sleep. Only Horatio and Archie lie awake, unable to rest,
their minds wandering where their bodies cannot...]

"Horatio? Are you awake?"

"Yes, Archie," came the gentle whisper of a reply. Horatio
was bone-weary, but his mind was active enough that he was sensitive
to his friend's fragile state. At this point, and after the way
Archie had reacted to seeing him for the first time, just hours
before, he wanted to be very careful in his attempts to bring his
friend back from whatever brink he feared Archie was teetering on.
And, he did not want to wake Hunter. Finally, the man was asleep,
and Horatio might now be able to think...

"Is -- is he sleeping?"

Hornblower held his breath for a moment and listened. The first
thing he heard were the footsteps of the guards on patrol outside,
heavy soles pounding hard pavement, with the occasional skittery
shuffling of a loose pebble kicked round here and there. He could
barely contain a sigh; this was a very far cry indeed from the
soothing creaking of the ship at night, and he was not used to the
stillness of being on land. He then perceived Midshipman
Hunter's rhythmic snoring, coming from the bunk above him. He
let out his breath in mild relief, for the little bit of privacy he
was thus afforded.

"Yes, he is... It's all right, Archie, you can say whatever
is on your mind..."

Horatio could hear a long, heavy, pained sigh coming from a few feet
to his right. So great was the despair audible in that one sigh that
it hurt Hornblower just to hear it. He turned his head in his
friend's direction.

"Archie?"

"You say Simpson is really dead?"

"Yes, he is... Captain Pellew himself helped Jack along into the
next world..."

"I -- I can't picture that... I'm having trouble
believing it...that he's really gone..."

"He's really gone, Archie. He can't hurt you
anymore..."

"Oh Horatio, the nightmares... It's never stopped, not one
night since I've been here. I've not slept well since before
he -- since before Indefatigable plucked him from the water..."

"You can sleep now, Archie. The nightmares can't hurt you.
They're only echoes of the past, and fears of the future."

"Then what is left, Horatio? For there IS no present..."

Hornblower was silent. How could he answer that? Archie was right.
Horatio, for his part, had only just arrived. How could he pretend
to know the months and months of despair his friend had been
enduring? He was still fresh from freedom - only that morning
had he awakened in his own prize ship, yes, with the weight of
command heavy upon him, but also with free air in his lungs.
Hornblower still had, by sheer force of will alone, a few ounces of
hope remaining in his trodden-upon soul; he had not yet been here
long enough for the wearisome, life-eroding boredom of confinement to
have taken its toll upon him.

"They're not real, Archie... As soon as the words were out,
Horatio knew he had not hit upon the right thing to say.

"Then what IS real?? You don't know what it's like here
- you've only just arrived! Horatio, there is nothing here
- NOTHING! In the beginning, they used to let me out some every
day,
for meals, and to walk round in the courtyards. But after my third
escape attempt, they finally took that away from me for good.
I've
not seen the sun over my head, Horatio, since the last time they
pulled me, half-dead, out of that dreadful hole in the earth... I
fear that is the last time I shall EVER see it again..."

Hornblower could hear sobs again. He could hardly bear it. He knew
all his friend had been through, back in Justinian, and had rejoiced
when finally he had seen him blossom in Indefatigable, before Simpson
had been rescued from the wreckage of Justinian. Horatio had always
known there was something great and noble in his friend, and yet
there was a gentleness and a fragility to him as well, that needed to
be looked after, in order for the great things to one day happen for
him. Now, part of him feared that one step forward and three steps
back had been taken; and he wanted desperately to do something about
it. Horatio closed his eyes in helplessness, his own exhaustion
clouding his usual optimism and confidence. *How am I going to bring
him out of this?* he wondered, in the darkness. *Anything I say is
going to sound overly positive, and he's never going to believe
that there might be any hope, not right now anyway. What do I say?
What do I say?* Then a thought occurred to him. *Maybe I won't
say anything...*

"Archie, tell me about the nightmares. When I was a boy, my
father used to say that talking about them would help them to go
away."

With effort, Kennedy turned onto his side. It had been only 8 days
since he had been freed from his month in the oubliette, and it was
still difficult to move. Sometimes he still couldn't even
believe that he COULD move. He could scarcely see in the near-
darkness, but instinctively he looked over in Hunter's direction.
He didn't like Hunter, he was afraid of him. He reminded him a
little of Simpson, though in a different way - this man was not
sinister like Jack had been; he was restless and impatient, and
unable to control his hostility. It frightened him to be confined
with someone like that, especially in his current, weakened state.
In the half-moonlight, Archie was just able to make out Mr.
Hunter's
outline, gently heaving in rhythmic breathing, his soft snores still
filling the small space. It was safe to talk. His eyes followed
down to Hornblower. He could see his brown eyes reflecting the bit
of pale light that filtered in, and despite his despair, he was able
to feel some small measure of reassurance, at least a little
gratitude for his friend's presence; and was not as afraid of
this big stranger. But doubt, his constant companion and only friend
for so very long a time, suddenly seized him again, and he hesitated.

"What's the use, Horatio?"

But Hornblower was determined. If he could do nothing else for his
friend, he could at least listen. "Just tell me," he
pressed, gently.

Archie took a deep breath. He did not fear Hunter listening, but
rather dwelling upon his horrible nightmares. No matter. Whether he
talked about them or not, he was quite certain he would be plagued by
more of them tonight, were sleep ever to claim him for a few blessed
hours this night.

"I have many, Horatio," he began, "some about this place,
some about home... But the worst one is about Simpson. He - I
- I'm alone in the midshipmen's berth in Justinian,
sitting
there reading, and in comes he. You know that look he gets -
used to
get -- when he knew he had you, and there was no-one to help
you..."

Horatio remembered the "inquisition" with a deep, involuntary
shudder. "Aye, I remember..." he said quietly.

"He comes in and says, `Captain Keane's pocket watch is
missing, and I know who has it.' And I say, `Perhaps you
should report them to Lieutenant Eccleston,' and he says `Oh,
I will...unless...' And then I drop my book, get up, shake my
head, and start to back away, and scarcely get out the words `But
I -
I don't - I would never -`and he comes after me,
slowly, with the cat and says, in that dreadful menacing low voice of
his, `No matter. I'm senior in the mess, and they will all
back my
word. Now, Archie, ol' Jack would like to...' And then I
wake up."
Kennedy had been becoming more and more breathless with each word he
related, until finally he was nearly hyperventilating. "Horatio?
Horatio..."

Hornblower was becoming alarmed at the odd sound of his friend's
breathing. "Archie, are you all right?" He didn't wait
for an answer. In one motion he threw off the thin blanket, rolled
out of his bunk, and was at his friend's side, kneeling on the
cold floor beside his bed.

****************

Alarmed, but not wanting to awaken Hunter, Horatio moved quietly,
gently putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. Archie's
skin was clammy, and was as cold as ice. With his other hand,
Hornblower pulled Archie's blanket, which had been in a heap at
the foot of the bed, up over him, meticulously folding it down over
his chest, as he had seen his father do for frightened patients in
need of comfort. He feared a fit.

"It's all right, Archie, just breathe deeply," he
soothed, "you're awake, it can't hurt you. And Simpson
is dead and buried. He will NEVER be able to threaten you or harm
you again."

Kennedy began to relax, and his breathing to normalise. He looked up
and saw his friend's reassuring eyes, shining with concern.
No-one had looked at him like that - indeed, no-one had cared --
for a very, very long time.

"I - I know... I know, Horatio," he finally managed, his
voice thin but his breathing even. "I just wish I could have
been there...you know, to see it." Archie looked embarrassed for
a moment. "I know that must sound dreadful of me..."

Hornblower smiled at his friend, gave him one more gentle pat on the
shoulder, and then sat down on the floor next to Kennedy's bunk,
his back leaning on the wall below the window. "I know what you
mean..it's all right. I could scarcely believe it myself, and I
heard Captain Pellew's shot -- I SAW Simpson fall. It was so
strange, Archie, it was as though the whole thing happened very, very
slowly...I could see every detail, hear the report of Pellew's
weapon echoing in my ears, recall exactly what the air smelled like
by the sea, the sounds of the birds hurrying off at the
commotion..."

"The sea..." Archie sighed.

"You'll see it again, Archie. We all will. We're going
to get out of here, my word on it."

"You sound fairly certain of yourself, Horatio, which is all
well, but you are not in control of this situation."

What was that Horatio sensed in his friend's voice? Doubt,
certainly. A touch of resentment? No. He was just tired. They were
both very tired.

"I know..." Hornblower looked down at the floor. Interesting
pattern the half-moonlight, going in and out from behind the night
clouds, was throwing onto the floor, when reflected off of the bars
above and behind him. For one terrible instant Horatio thought that
he had better get used to finding excitement in noting things like
that, for he feared that would be all the excitement there would be
to be had in this place. *You're tired, Horatio,* he told
himself, and he dismissed the negative thoughts from his mind.

"I know, Archie," he repeated. "But we mustn't give
up hope. We CAN not. We must think of the men."

Archie admitted to himself that he hadn't thought of the men. He
turned and looked at Horatio, who continued:

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you everything is good
and just, nor will I speak of the bright future that awaits us, when
we must deal with each day in its turn. But Archie, you and I are
all the men have - we are their only hope." He looked up to
where, thankfully, Hunter still snored, safe in the arms of slumber.
"He's not going to be of any help, I am certain you can see
that already." He leaned in closer and whispered, "I
don't
know how it was that Pellew saw fit to inflict him upon me, except by
the virtue that he is senior midshipman, and I did need an officer.
Archie, you'd not believe the trouble he's given me." He
leaned back again and sighed. "But that too is part of my
duty..."

"Horatio...I... I can't make it..." His blue eyes,
shadowed by dark circles that made him look ten years older than he
was, began to fill with tears again. "I can't even walk....
I can't even get up without help to - well, I
can't...." He
closed his eyes in despair, the tears being pushed out by the
movement of his eyelids. "Mr Hunter was right. I'll only
slow the
rest of you down. I am not an example to the men, Horatio. I
can't
even help MYSELF-- how am I going to be any use to them..or to
you..."

Once again Horatio didn't know what to say. How could he explain
it? How could he express it without sounding maudlin? They were in
a terrible situation, to be sure, but they were still men, and still
officers in his majesty's Navy. There was pride. But of what
use would pride be, were his closest friend -- one who had been as a
brother, and one whom he had thought he had lost forever - to
succumb to utter despair?

"Archie," he began quietly, leaning forward again,
"don't you know? Don't you even realise?"

Kennedy opened his eyes, which were still shining with tears, turned
his head, and looked at him quizzically. "Realise what?"

"You still have no idea what it was like for me when I first saw
you today - alive. Archie, I thought you were dead. When we
didn't hear - well, there was no other logical assumption to
be made."

"Why didn't someone look for me??" Archie's voice was
pleading, and it made his friend's heart hurt to think that all
this time, Archie had thought himself abandoned.

"We did. When we got back to Indefatigable we tried. But it was
too late. There had been the battle, I was wounded -"

"You were?"

"Aye... I shall tell you of it another time..." Horatio
thought it best not to trouble his friend at this time with images of
Simpson shooting him in the head. "But Archie, that terrible
heaviness, that dread of inevitability when they took my ship, and
the feeling when they closed the door on us... you don't realise
it, but it was just as bad for me... And being stuck with Hunter
- how, I wondered to myself, was I EVER to do anything for the
men,
not to mention bear this myself, if I must deal with him as
well??"
Hornblower forced a smile, which there was enough light for Kennedy
to see.

"Archie," the Acting Lieutenant continued, "when I saw
you here, I knew that I would be able to bear it."

"But Horatio..."

"For I knew that if you could be alive after all this time, then
anything - ANYthing - could be possible."

"Horatio...I I can't walk..." Kennedy repeated.
"I don't know if I EVER will be able to again. It's been
over a week since they carried me back here, and still I can't
even..."

"Archie..."

"And even if by some miracle we DO escape, or are exchanged, or
the war ends, what life will I have? The third son of a lord fails
in his majesty's Navy, and must be carried back to the family
home, a cripple to wait out his days abed, being waited upon... a
failure..."

"Archie..." Hornblower repeated gently.

Kennedy turned over again, slowly and painfully, his back to Horatio,
his knees drawn up toward his chest in fetal position, and his arms
clutching his rumpled jacket as though it were a child's toy
animal. Hornblower could hear the sobs beginning again. "Leave
me alone," Archie said, in a thin, nasally voice.

Quietly Horatio shifted back to the kneeling position, gently
stroking his friend's shoulder comfortingly, and readjusting the
blanket. He knew now that there was nothing he could say to console
his brother officer, and the realisation pained him more than
anything had ever done before. Patting the blanket one last time,
Hornblower rose, his weary features downcast, and crept back to his
bunk. He pulled his own blanket up as high as he could bring it, in
a subconscious attempt to shut out the world and its problems, and
closed his eyes, wishing with all his heart that this was all a
nightmare from which he would awaken as soon as he opened them.

*He's just going to need some time, *he assured himself. *We
HAVE time... That is the one thing we DO have...*

Mr Hunter never even awakened.

*********