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A Fleeting Visit - Halloween Fic-ish!
by Pamdram

Set during `Flying Colours', when the ghost of Archie pays
Horatio a visit....

It's been a long time, hasn't it, Horatio? We haven't spoken in a
while, but don't think that that's because I don't care, I have
missed our `conversations'. You've been somewhat
preoccupied of late, what with everything that happened aboard
the Sutherland, and being in prison again. It is little wonder you
have had little time to think about me, and I haven't expected you
to. I always said I wanted you to move on, and it seems that,
finally, you have. I am glad of it. I would not have come back now,
but I think there are some things that you need to know.

I know that you are blaming yourself for losing the ship and
having to surrender in that way. You feel directly responsible for
all the killed and wounded aboard, don't you? So typical of you,
and yet so completely wrong. You did everything you could to
safeguard the Sutherland; no man could have done more, and I
know for a fact that the men do not blame you for it, so please do
not torture yourself with regrets that are not yours. William
certainly does not blame you for what happened on board, or for
this imprisonment.

You are never happy, Horatio, unless you have something to
worry yourself silly about. It was always one of the things that
infuriated me about you, yet it was also one of your most
endearing traits as well. I will never forget the way you worried
yourself over me in El Ferrol, even though I had given up on
myself. And now you are worrying yourself into a frenzy about
William. The pair of you are so stubborn, it's almost comical. You
both know one is anxious about the other; both of you try so hard
to hide your own pain or worry from the other, and yet neither of
you are willing to admit it. You do it all the time, and it's hard for
me not to smile when I see it. But this time, I have to be honest, I
am anxious for you both.

I'm sure you'd be the first to acknowledge that William puts on a
brave face for your benefit, as you have for him in the past. But I
have never seen him like this, Horatio. He is concealing far more
than I think even you realise. And it's not just the physical pain
and weariness that you'd expect from having a wound such as
his, although that is bad enough. He is afraid, really afraid, of so
many things. His future is much less certain now. He is scared
that this will mean an ignominious end to his years of service,
that he will never achieve promotion or walk the deck of a ship
again. He is as afraid of living as he is of dying, a helpless
cripple in a prison cell.

I have tried to talk to him as I am talking to you, Horatio, but he
cannot hear me. His thoughts are so muddled, his mind so full
of doubts and misgivings that I cannot get through. I have
listened to his cries of pain when you are not there, and I have
seen the tears of despair he has shed silently when things
seem to him to be nothing but blackness. I just want you to know
that, as you suffer in your self reproach, your sense of guilt and
responsibility, someone else is suffering too.

You must be there for him, Horatio, as you were for me, as he
has been for you. Of course, I know that you will be. That is one
of the many things you are so good at. It will be difficult, Horatio,
especially at first, to see how he really is, but you must
persevere. I doubt that even William knows how much he will
need your help and support to get through this; he was always a
loner, always self reliant and self confident, and never one for
feeling sorry for himself, but he can not do this alone.

I miss you, Horatio. I miss the laughs we shared together, and
the opportunity to pay back some of the debt I owe you. I wanted
to be able to shake your hand at your wedding; to celebrate your
promotions, to be with you during those times when I saw that
you were worried by your responsibilities. I am grateful to William
for standing in my stead, and hope that you will know just how
close I am to you, every step of the way.

***********
William? Can you hear me? No, you're not delirious, it's me,
Archie. That's right. Good God, man, I've been trying to talk to you
for days. I haven't got long, so I want you to listen to me. I know,
it's hard to focus, to concentrate. I've been there, remember? But
at least try, won't you? I thought so.

As I said, I haven't got long. This kind of thing takes it out of you,
you know. I just wanted to see how you were doing. No, you see,
that's just not working with me. I mean, how you're really doing.
Not the front that you put on for Horatio, or anyone else for that
matter. You can't hide that sort of thing from me. Not now.

You have to believe that you'll get through this, William. Things
are not as black as they appear to be to you right now. It's
difficult to keep any kind of perspective when your mind is
clouded with pain and fever, but you can get through it. I know
you don't feel it, but you're a strong person. You have courage
and determination, and you'll find them, in time.

I want you to know that I appreciate all the things you have done
for Horatio. You have been there through every stage of his
career since our time on Renown, and I am grateful for your
loyalty to him. He is grateful for it too, although you know that he
has never been a demonstrative man.

Horatio is worried about you. He doesn't show it of course, any
more than you show him how scared you are, how bad your pain
is, because that's his way. He was the same with me, if you
recall. He's very good at wearing a mask, but he hasn't realised
that we both know that that's exactly what it is. You have to
realise just how much he needs you, William. Even if you can't
fight this for yourself, then do it for him - for me.

I realise that I'm asking a lot. I know full well that what you're
going through is terrible, and I understand. I really do. I know
how uncertain everything seems, how much you fear for the
future. I wish I could be there in person to help you. It hurts to see
you suffer, and know that I can do nothing. But please, William,
try. Just remember that you really are not alone in this; Horatio is
with you, and so am I, in my own way. You can talk to me
whenever you want to with your thoughts, and I'll know. It's not
always easy, talking to Horatio; you don't want to hurt him; you
don't want to worry him, and half the time, you just don't know
where to begin or how to say it.

I know you're scared. I know what's running through your mind.
You never wanted this; you wanted to die, not live life as a
cripple. I've been there. Don't resent Horatio for saving your life. I
did, after El Ferrol, for a long time, although I never told him that.
It took me a while to realise that he saved me because my life
still had purpose, and that to let me die would be to throw
everything away. I thought I'd never be able to face the future, just
as you do, but Horatio never intended to be selfish. He cares
about you, William, more than you realise. More than even he
realises. And your life still has purpose, you must think on that. It
might not take the direction you thought it would, but you are the
kind of man who has so much to give to others, so much loyalty
and dedication. Horatio knows it, and he does not want to see it
go to waste, and more than I do.

 

****

Fleeting Visit - Responses.

"Even though I can hear your voice as clearly as ever, I can hardly
believe you are here, Archie. After all this time, and just at the
point in my life when I most need you. You know me as well as I
know myself; better in some respects, since you often pointed
things out to me which I did not know. Can this really be
happening?

I can't pretend to be anything other than what I am, you know that,
and you know that I can not help but feel responsible for
everything that has happened. It is the burden of rank, and one
which I took upon myself willingly. Right now, though, I feel as
though it is a burden which is too much for one man to bear. If
only you were with me! You always managed to make me see
things in perspective; you always calmed me with your good
sense and reassurance. We may not have spoken for a while,
but you have never been far from my thoughts.

William reminds me of you in so many ways. I have been lucky
enough to secure his friendship and loyalty, but I wonder, Archie,
whether what has happened will change all that. I
countermanded his wishes that day the Sutherland was taken.
He did not want to see the surgeon. He wanted to die on deck, in
battle, and I wouldn't let him. I ordered the hands to take him
below, and he was in no condition to argue. Everything he has
been through since then, and all that awaits him, is at my door,
and I know it. He must blame me, it is only natural. At the time, I
thought it was the right thing, but was it, Archie? What have I
condemned him to?

You are right. William has stood by me ever since I took
command of the Hotspur what seems like a lifetime ago. I do not
know what I should have done without him. He has offered
support and advice, he has encouraged me and made me laugh
at myself almost as well as you did. And now this. How can I let
him see that I am worried? He has concerns enough of his own.
I have sat by his bedside, and he has not even realised that I
have been there, such has been his fever and near delirium. I
have done this, and I can not rectify it.

I can not rectify it any more than I can bring back all those brave
men who fought and died for me that day. If only I had acted
sooner. My pride forbade striking the Sutherland's colours until I
knew it to be hopeless, and that decision has cost me dearly. I
shall carry it with me for the rest of my days, regardless of
whether or not I escape from here or walk the deck of a ship
again after my court martial, which I know awaits me on my
return to England.

I do not know what to do. I see William's pain and suffering; I can
think of nothing else, and I think that it is high time I repaid all his
loyalty and friendship, but there is nothing I can do to ease the
pain. If I could exchange places with him, I would, to spare him
this nightmare. Yet I can not cure the fever, or change our
situation. I feel frustrated and guilty and angry, and I have no one
I can turn to, except you, Archie. I did not want William to die,
however much he felt that his life was over. I will try to be there for
him and do what I can, however feeble that might be. I just hope
that he will want me to be there, and that he can forgive me for all
of this.

I miss you so much Archie. I may have moved on, but part of me
will always be with you, my dearest friend and all the times we
shared together. Nothing can change that, and for that, I will
always be grateful. "

****

"H'ratio? What the...Archie? Dear God, I must be dreaming! I'm
not? You mean to say that it really is you? It has been a while,
hasn't it? I am well enough, all things considered. Well, all right,
if you insist. Much has happened, Archie, and I don't know if you
are acquainted with it all, although I suspect you must be, since
you are here. You ought not to be, you do realise that? I ought not
to be here either. I ought to be with you, Archie.

That day aboard the Sutherland was terrible indeed; I have never
seen its like before, nor ever shall again. Horatio did all that
could be expected of any captain, but in the end, he had little
choice, from what I have heard. I was not on deck at the end of
the battle, but I know that he struck our colours as a last resort,
and I know that he blames himself for it. I tell you the truth,
Archie, I would have done the same in his position.

I remember very little in truth. It is all clouded in a shroud of pain
which I can not seem to dispel, no matter how hard I try. I can
remember hitting the deck, and I can remember Horatio kneeling
over me. I wanted to stay there, Archie. All I have ever wanted has
been for my death to be in action, not under the surgeon's knife
or rotting in a prison somewhere. I do not think that Horatio really
understands that in the way that you do. After all, which is worse -
a quick death in battle or a slow, lingering one like this? You've
been there, Archie. You tell me.

I know that Horatio is worried. That is why I try not to add to his
concerns. He has what remains of the Sutherland's crew to think
about, and that is sufficient for any man. God knows what he
must feel like. I do not know which prospect troubles him more,
that of remaining a prisoner, or returning home to be disgraced
in court martial. The consequences of what happened that day
weigh heavy on his soul; I can see it in his eyes.

Horatio would be better off without me. He feels a sense of
obligation, of responsibility towards me because he saved my
life. He will not entertain thoughts of escape or leaving me
behind. I don't wish to be a burden to him, Archie. Not now, nor in
the future, if I have one. I do not want him to be held back
because of a misguided sense of duty towards a crippled officer.
That is why I can never tell him how I really feel. I can not explain
to him how bad the pain is, or tell him of the terrible things which
haunt my dreams. He has fear and uncertainty enough of his
own without bearing the weight of mine. He has spent what time
he can at my side, and I have had neither the wit nor the strength
to tell him how much that has meant to me.

I am so desperately tired, Archie. It is a tiredness which I have
never experienced before, and I fear I shall never be rid of it. And I
am scared. Yes, you heard correctly. I fear that for whatever
remains of my life, I will be nothing more than a shadow of
myself. I know for a fact that I will never go to sea again, even
supposing I survive this. So what is left? I feel as though there is
nothing left, not any more. I can not see beyond this stretcher,
this cell, the end of the day. I know that Horatio cares. He did not
mean anything but good in sending me below to the surgeon; it
is not in him to have anything other than the best of motives, but
how can I talk to him about this? I do not blame him at all,
although I suspect that he thinks I do. I just hope that he will
realise it sooner, rather than later.

I want to tell him, Archie. I really do. Perhaps it is selfish of me to
want to unburden myself on someone else, but all of this is
dragging at my spirits, and I feel so alone in here. Perhaps, if you
see Horatio, you might tell him that I know he has been here.

I wish that we had had more of an opportunity to get to know one
another, Archie. It will always be something that I shall regret,
although in the brief time we served together, you made me feel
as though I had known you for years. I should have thanked you
for that before now, but somehow I think you knew anyway. I
know how much Horatio misses you. I miss you too, Archie.
Watch... watch over him for me. "