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Conversations - Horatio & Archie - You're Not Alone
by Michele

 

"Leave me alone, Archie."

Horatio sat slumped at the table in the wardroom, staring down at the
floor planking as if it were the most interesting thing in the
world. Or maybe not, since at this moment Horatio Hornblower truly
believed he did not DESERVE to look at anything interesting.

"No, I will NOT, Horatio." Acting Lieutenant Archie Kennedy
closed his book, got up from where he'd been sitting on the other
side of the table, and sat down next to his friend. "I CAN
not."

"But why?" Hornblower raised his hands in a helpless gesture.
"It doesn't matter... NOTHING matters..."

Archie spoke gently, searching for the right words. He had never
seen his friend so vulnerable before, not even after he'd been
released from the oubliette back in El Ferrol. At least then, the
man still had some semblance of his spirit intact, even if he had
lost temporary control of his body. THIS wound, Kennedy thought
grimly, would be MUCH harder to treat, and much longer in healing.

"Horatio... You did everything you could. You went above and
beyond the call. You made her life better, and that's something
to be proud of."

Hornblower raised his eyes and met his friend's worried gaze.
His voice was nearly a wail. "NO, Archie, I KILLED her!
Don't you understand?? If it hadn't been for me, she would
still be back in Muzillac, alive!"

"You don't KNOW that, Horatio... You most certainly saved
her from certain abuse by those soldiers. And most importantly, you
gave her hope."

"FALSE hope..." Hornblower's voice was low again, and
his gaze with it.

Archie took a deep breath and collected his thoughts for a moment.
It was killing him to see his friend like this. Horatio was always
the strong one, always there for HIM. That was the way it was
supposed to be, not the other way round. *When I'M like this,*
he thought to himself, *it's not so bad -- I'm USED to it.
With everything I've been through in my life, one gets used to the
pain and disappointment after a while... *

And then a thought occurred to him. Now, maybe he knew how to bring
his friend back over the bridge again....

"Horatio," he began gently, putting a comforting hand on his
friend's arm, "You asked me why I cannot leave you to drown
in your misery like this."

"You CAN leave me alone, Mr Kennedy. You just WON'T."

"No. Now LISTEN to me, Mr Hornblower. I've BEEN where you
are. I KNOW what you're going through."

"No you don't...."

Kennedy took another deep breath. This was hard, really hard.
"All right, so maybe I didn't lose someone the way you just
did. But I've lost OTHER things....."

Something in the way Archie's voice trailed off made Horatio look
up at him and meet his eyes, despite his own pit of misery.
Hornblower found in those blue eyes a slight faraway look, and he
nearly winced when he saw the intensity of the pain in them.

"Simpson...."

"Yes, Horatio..." Kennedy cleared his throat. "And
years in prison, alone. And the longest month of my life, in that
godforsaken hole in the earth. I was broken, Horatio. Completely
and utterly broken. And Spain was not the first time."
Considering the subject matter, Archie's voice was now firmer
than Hornblower would have expected.

"I know, Archie..."

Good. *At least I have him talking,* thought Kennedy.

"So I KNOW what it's like to be past my limit of endurance,
and I know what it's like to be so consumed with pain and
bitterness and disappointment -- and yes, even anger -- that you
don't even want to go on, and you don't even CARE any more...
Now, you KNOW that, Horatio -- you were there...."

Hornblower couldn't deny that. And he didn't know what to
say.

"I know..." was all he could manage.

"You've seen me at my worst, and I've seen you there as
well."

"I'm there NOW, Archie...."

"I know that, Horatio. But you know something? Sometimes we all
just are going to have our Simpsons and our oubliettes and our
Muzillacs... And sometimes they're going to devastate us, and
we're just going to reach a point where we're down so deep we
don't believe we'll EVER come back up again."

"I DON'T, Archie, that's just IT. And I don't
CARE..."

"Yes you do, Horatio. Now listen to me." Archie gently but
firmly put a hand to the side of his friend's downcast face and
made him turn to look at him. "LISTEN to me, I said. At the
risk of sounding like a martyr, no-one understands pain and despair
better than I do. You know that to be true, Horatio, you were there,
and YOU were the one who brought me back from that place people go to
when there's no-one there TO bring them back. YOU gave me HOPE.
So you MUST believe me when I say, you WILL get through this."

"No...."

"Horatio, I know you don't believe this now, but you can do
this. You're strong, and you're brave, and you're the
best friend I've ever had -- much better than I DESERVE. I know
it's hard, and I know you blame yourself, and I know that right
now all you want to do is cut yourself adrift. But I'm not going
to
LET you, any more than you let ME do that to myself in prison.
I've
BEEN where you are now, Horatio, you KNOW I have, and you know I'm
RIGHT."

"But...." Hornblower turned from his friend and swallowed
hard. "It hurts, Archie... It hurts more than I ever imagined
it could.... It's -- it's not supposed to BE this way... You
know what I mean..."

Kennedy smiled understandingly at his friend. "Yes, Horatio, I
know... But sometimes -- and you KNOW I've learnt this the hard
way myself -- sometimes you just have to admit you're just like
the rest of us, that you're NOT a golden boy, that things
AREN'T always going to go just right for you; and that you must
realise that even though things DO go wrong in this life, there are
people who understand, people who care, and people who are not going
to let you endure it alone."

"I know that, Archie.." Hornblower looked up at his friend,
his brown eyes wide and moist. He hated himself for being so weak,
and he hated the unshed tears in his eyes. But he knew his friend
was right, and that he knew what he was talking about, even though he
ALSO knew that the pain wasn't going to go away just with some
well-chosen words from his friend.

Kennedy must have read his mind. When you spend that much time with
someone, day and night, and in the circumstances they had been forced
to live in, you get to know them pretty darn well. "No-one said
it was going to be easy, Horatio," he said gently, squeezing his
friend's arm. "And I never said the pain was going to go
away right away, if ever completely at ALL..."

Against his will, a single tear fell from Hornblower's eye.
*Blast him, * he thought, *he knows me too well.*

"All I AM saying," Archie continued, "is that you're
not alone in this. I KNOW how you feel. And I'm going to get
you through this, just like you brought me back from my despair in El
Ferrol. I'm not going to give up on you, even though you may
want to give up on YOURSELF. I won't let it consume you, or let
it take your spirit from you. But you've got to help me out
here.
You MUST grab hold of that one little corner of yourself, deep inside
you that you KNOW is still there, where that little bit of spirit
still lives, and hold onto it. That's all I ask. I'll do the
rest. When you feel yourself sinking down again, I will offer my
hand and pull you up. But you have to TAKE that hand."

"I.... I don't know if I CAN, Archie..." Again the
helpless gesture. And again Hornblower hated himself for his
weakness.

"Yes you CAN." Kennedy's voice was strong and
determined, and Hornblower hated to admit it, but he WAS starting to
draw just a tiny bit of strength from his friend's steadfastness
and honesty. "You MUST. Think about how you felt when you were
leaning over me in El Ferrol, and I didn't want to take that
first step, I didn't want to drink that water you offered."

Now Horatio's gaze was faraway. "I remember..."

"Good. Now, if I hadn't taken that first step -- taken that
first sip of life from that cup in that darkest of my hours, that YOU
offered me, Horatio, I would not be here today. Trying, I might add,
to do the very same thing for you...."

Hornblower looked down at the planking again, obviously deep in
thought. He knew his friend was right. He had no excuses. Yes, he
was in pain. Terrible pain. And he hated himself, and blamed
himself, and he thought himself unworthy of even the breath he drew,
much less the rank of Lieutenant in his Majesty's Navy.

But he also knew that Archie was right. What right did he have to
give in to despair, knowing all Kennedy had overcome? What right did
he have to let the pain take his life from him, when his closest
friend STILL struggled with nightmares, fought the horrible memories,
and constantly battled an ever-present sense of his own unworthiness,
all because of the things Simpson had inflicted on him, so long
ago?

*What right do I have.... * Horatio could not stop the thought from
echoing in his head.

Archie could see that his friend was going through the process, and
he remained silent for a time. Finally Hornblower broke the silence.

"I will try, Archie...." he sighed.

Kennedy smiled. "That's all I can ask, Horatio."

Hornblower forced a smile, despite the pain and heaviness that still
wracked his soul. "You ask a LOT, Mr Kennedy."

"So did YOU, Mr Hornblower."

"And look where it got you."

"Yes, Horatio. It got me safely home again."

"Home...." The sarcastic, jesting tone was gone as suddenly
as it had appeared, and Hornblower's voice was quiet once more.

"Yes, Horatio," Archie repeated. "We're home... And
we're GOING to be all right, I promise you..."