Horatio and Archie: Conversations
by Michele

Part 4, Duchess & The Devil: "The First Night Back"

[Scene: The cell in the Spanish prison, the first night after Horatio
and Archie have returned from Indefatigable.]

"Horatio...are you awake?"

"Yes, Archie. Are you all right?"

"I -- I think so... I'm just a little cold."

"I know..I hadn't realised it might get that cold in
Spain..." Horatio felt stupid for saying that; he should have
known better. It was a big country, and would have different weather
patterns in different regions. Autumn was fast upon them, and things
were changing.

"We are quite far north here, Horatio..."

"Aye, I suppose we are..."

"You haven't been here in the winter yet. Certainly, it
never gets like Portsmouth in January, but that uncovered window does
make a man wish for a nice warm fire at night..."

Inwardly, and for at least the tenth time that day, Horatio cursed
himself for bringing his friend back here.

"I'm sorry, Archie..." was all he could manage.

After a short silence Kennedy said gently, "Horatio, there was
nothing else we COULD do. You had given your word."

Hornblower was surprised, but only a little. "But not for
you..."

"Aye, you did. For ALL of us. Remember, you told me when we got
back -- before Captain Pellew addressed us all. There was nothing
else we could have done..."

Horatio smiled to himself at his friend's loyalty and sense of
honour. Of course, that couldn't take away the guilt which was
eating away at him. But there was some comfort there, nonetheless.
Archie was trying so hard to be strong, even though Horatio knew it
must be his worst nightmare come true, having to go back to his place
of loneliness and despair. He tried to brighten.

"We'll be all right, Archie. They let us have our dunnage
this time, at least they WILL, after Don Massaredo goes through it to
make sure there's no contraband."

"Like a deadly copy of Hamlet, perhaps?" Archie joked.

"Perhaps," Hornblower smiled.

"Well, do you think we can ask him for some extra blankets
tomorrow?

"I have a feeling Don Massaredo will treat us well this time,
Archie. After all, as far as he's concerned, we didn't HAVE
to come back. I'm sure we've made him -- and the whole
garrison -- look good to his superiors. I doubt their Excellencies
in Madrid -- not to mention the Don himself -- would have been very
happy about a whole company of English sailors escaping and making a
fool of him."

Kennedy thought for a moment. "I suppose you're right..
Well then, do you think they'd give us a good room in the
house?"

Horatio smiled again. His friend was definitely on a roll here.
"I doubt it, Archie. We ARE still prisoners of England's
enemy..."

"I know..." Archie was quiet again.

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

After a long silence, Kennedy ventured, "Horatio.. are YOU all
right?"

"Me? Why WOULDN'T I be?"

"Because you hate being in one place, and having nothing to do,
even more than *I* do. I KNOW you, Horatio.. I saw your endless
pacing last time, from this window. You can't sit still, you must
always be DOING something."

Hornblower smiled at the words which echoed those of Matthews, some
weeks before. But he knew his friend was right, and frankly, he
didn't know how to answer him, and he didn't know how he was
going to bear confinement for what could be a very long time, perhaps
until the end of the war, whenever THAT might be.

"I'll manage somehow," he finally said. "After all,
I have you, and the compleat works of Shakespeare, not to mention Don
Quixote, to keep me company... Might I remind you, Archie, *you* bore
it, and on your own..."

But Kennedy would not be fooled by his friend's attempt to make
light of things. "I'm used to it, Horatio. I don't like
it one bit, but at least I'm used to it, in some ways now more
than
I'm used to being in a ship."

If that was supposed to make Horatio feel better, he couldn't
figure out how. It only made him wince, in the darkness, to be
reminded that his friend had been here for so long that he could
scarcely remember what it was even LIKE to be back aboard his old
ship. What would he say? He didn't want what he was REALLY
feeling to show, and yet he couldn't lie, Archie would see right
through him; and besides, he DESERVED the truth.

"You're right, Archie," he finally said. "I
don't like it one bit either. To be perfectly honestly with you,
I have no idea how I'm going to bear it, if the war goes on for
years more. I only know that we have no choice, and as officers in
his majesty's navy, we always knew that someday it could come to
this, and we must accept it."

"Uh-huh..." Archie was not convinced that his friend was so
readily accepting their lot.

"Oh come on, Archie, don't do this to me. I'm
trying..." He couldn't hold back any more, and could no
longer see any point in trying to. "I'm trying not to say
how angry I
am at this whole blasted situation -- at how I got us into this in
the FIRST place, by letting my ship be taken, by giving my stupid
parole that I -- that WE -- would return, by --"

"Now wait, Horatio," Archie interjected, "if you
hadn't lost your ship in the first place, I'd still be here
by myself, in ANY case, and probably dead by now besides..."

Hornblower stopped a moment to ponder this. "You're quite
right, of course, Archie," he said, a bit more calmly. "But
the fact
remains, I AM very frustrated that you and the men had to be involved
in this, that you had to return with me. Every instinct within me is
telling me to think of a way to escape -- that being able to plan an
escape might be the only thing to keep me SANE in this place. But I
know I cannot do that now. I have given my word that we would
return, and we did. I cannot break it, and dishonour all of us, by
attempting to escape."

In a painful flash of memory Archie recalled being caught and put in
the oubliette for a month following his own fifth escape
attempt. "No, Horatio, none of us can do that..."

"And therein lies my frustration. I cannot stand feeling this
helpless, and I cannot stand the fact that I've brought this upon
you and the men as well..."

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

Another long silence. It nearly broke Archie's heart to hear his
friend -- his normally oh-so-strong friend Horatio -- talk like
this. But strangely, it did him good too, because he knew that they
would never make it if they could not be honest with one another. He
himself had never had a problem expressing himself, but he knew that
Horatio tended to bottle things up and keep them locked away inside,
just as surely as they two were locked in that cell. Sometimes he
worried for him: It all eventually had to come spilling out, and how
would it be when it finally DID? The only way they would make it
through this would be to BE there for each other. At times Archie
felt so inadequate -- like Horatio had always been there for him, but
Horatio had always been so strong, he didn't NEED anyone.
Sometimes Kennedy wondered to himself, *What can someone like me
possibly offer someone like him?* Of course, he had found out, after
Horatio had been taken from the oubliette and returned to the cell,
and Archie, with a little help from Hunter, had brought him back from
his broken, weakened state, and had done it whilst still allowing his
friend to maintain the dignity he knew Horatio so desperately
needed. ESPECIALLY then.

"You said it yourself, Horatio," Kennedy finally began
quietly. "And I think you've already worked it out
yourself..."

Hornblower turned his head and looked across the darkness in
Archie's direction, even though he could only make out a faint
outline. "What do you mean?"

"We've no choice, Horatio," Archie continued gently.
"NONE of us. We all accepted this possibility when we signed on.
I can buy into this and berate you -- or you can berate yourself --
for `bringing this upon me.' Or," Archie's voice
became
firm, "I can be selfish, and thank you -- yes, THANK you -- for
getting your ship captured, so I wouldn't have to die here
alone!!"

The words hit Horatio like a lead weight, but a lead weight with a
high polish to it, that reflected the sun's brilliance, and the
light of day. *Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Horatio,* he snapped
inwardly. *Yes, this is going to be hard, but no harder than it will
be for your best friend, who has already spent two years of his life
here; or for the men, who only want to get back on their ship and
fight for their country. True, you are the commanding officer, and
as such you ARE responsible for all of this. But for that very same
reason, you do not have the luxury of wallowing in self-pity, nor of
dwelling on your own guilt and anger over something you cannot
change.*

When he finally spoke, he was quiet, but not defeated. If anything,
there was strength in his quietness. "You're right,
Archie..."

"Of COURSE I am!"

Horatio smiled despite himself. "And..thank you..."

"You're welcome. You'd, er, do just the same for me if I
were in your shoes..."

Hornblower could practically *hear* his friend's smirk in the
darkness, and was forced to smile himself. "Yes, thank you, Mr
Kennedy..."

"Very good, Mr Hornblower. Now, we do have one problem
remaining."

"And that is?"

"I'm STILL bloody cold!!"

"Oh..I'm sorry, Archie... Here, how about you take the
blanket that's on the extra bunk?" Hornblower climbed down
from the top bunk and pulled the scratchy brown blanket from the
bottom bunk, and brought it to Archie. Okay, maybe there was still a
bit of guilt there. Privilege of rank.

"Now why didn't *I* think of that?"

"Because I'm the commanding officer..." Horatio
carefully settled the blanket over his friend's shivering body,
before returning to his own bunk.

"Oh... rub it in, why don't you, sir?"

"You're welcome, Archie...."

"Horatio?"

"Yes?"

"I wish just one more thing..."

"What's that?"

"I wish we could have spent just ONE night in Indefatigable
before returning here... To be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking
of the ship, and to hear the water lapping at her hull, for just one
night, would have made this much easier..."

"I know..." Horatio cleared his throat. "We'll get
back there, Archie, I promise you.."

"I know we will... Good-night, Horatio..."

"Good-night, Archie..."

A short silence, then once more Horatio was comforted to hear that
little sarcastic bent back in his friend's voice.

"You'll still be here in the morning, won't you, Horatio?
I mean, I'm not hallucinating again..."

"I'm not going anywhere, Archie. Now go to sleep, that's
an order!"

"In sleep a king, but waking no such matter..."

Horatio groaned in mock despair. "Oh dear... he's starting
already..."