A Life of Duty: Archie and Edrington II
by Dutch

The Carriage Ride...

For the first portion of the trip back, Archie and Lord Edrington sat consumed by their own thoughts and memories. However, Lord Edrington was plagued by a comment made by Dr. Hornblower shortly before they left... "You retrieved his body." Thinking back, Edrington remembered the bleak expression on Archie's face, and the way he rubbed his shoulder.

"Mr. Kennedy," Edrington started, only to stop after seeing the almost vacant expression on Archie's face. He realized Archie had not heard him, and decided to call him back to himself the way Horatio had done - require him to report. The silence grew longer. "Mr. Kennedy, tell me what happened that night." he demanded sharply.

"My lord?" Archie seemed to take a moment before the words sank in. "It was a mission, sir. We were to raid a signal tower, but there was heavier opposition than expected."

Edrington watched in concern as Archie started blankly past him. Suddenly he realized Archie was replaying the events in his mind. When Archie took up the narrative again, it was with an odd detached tone.

"It wasn't until after the mission was completed and we were back aboard the Indy that I knew anything had happened to Horatio. I think Mr. Cleveland told me." His voice trailed off.

"You decided to go back for him..." Edrington prompted.

"I couldn't leave him there!" The words burst from Archie as though ripped from his very soul. "I don't know what happened next." However, the memories were starting to come back nudging at the curtain that had fallen over them. After a few moments more of silence, Archie continued in a distracted tone of voice, "I took Matthews, Styles and Oldroyd with me. There was another seaman, but I don't remember who - he didn't make it back. We knew Captain Pellew wouldn't agree to allow us to go back, so we took a jollyboat without his permission."

"What happened when you got to the beach?"

"We were seen, and they started shooting at us. The seaman fell, and I was hit in the shoulder. We could see where Horatio was lying. I remember shooting a Frog who was standing over Horatio's body - I don't know what he was doing. Somehow, we got to him." Archie had to stop again to fight his way back through the memories that were pouring over him. Edrington sat silently just watching the younger man's expressions.

"You got to him. What happened next?" He finally asked.

"I took his sword, Styles slung him over his shoulder..." Archie eyes filled with tears, and his voice caught. He cleared his throat before continuing. "Matthews and Oldroyd cleared the way for us to get back to the boat. I remember sitting with one hand on the rudder, and the other holding him against me."

Edrington finally realized the huge leap forward Archie had taken during that mission. Between losing his best friend, single-handedly completing the objective of the mission, and then going back to retrieve Horatio's body. For the first time in their acquaintance, Edrington looked at Archie as an equal who deserved his respect. This was not the jaunty young man who made snide comments about his troops, but a seasoned officer who had demonstrated initiative and maturity.

Trapped in the memory, Archie continued, "We rowed back to the Indy, and I helped to lift Horatio to the deck. Captain Pellew pulled him up, and then nearly dragged me over the side. He was furious." Edrington listened with compassion to the detached recital. Archie looked almost surprised as he related the captain's anger. "He finally stopped yelling after he saw I was wounded." Unconsciously, Archie again touched his shoulder. His expression lifted into a small smile as he quoted, and unintentionally mimicked, the captain's tone and words, "'...the next time you go asea without my word I swear you'll run the ruddy gauntlet for it sir!'"

Edrington, too, smiled at the quote. However, he realized the captain's anger was borne of his feelings of responsibility for Archie - not just as one of his crew, but as Horatio's best friend. His appearance is deceiving, Edrington decided. Though he is ruddy complected and solid, there is a fragility in him that Horatio had sheltered. "It appears you remember more than you thought." Edrington observed.

"There are whole sections that are blank, my lord." Archie's throat closed as he remembered that he knew Horatio had been buried, but had no recollection of the ceremony.

The tears he had tried to suppress while at Dr. Hornblower's welled in his eyes and slowly traced down his cheeks. Edrington grasped his arm with a solid grip, but turned his face away. He didn't want Archie to see his tears.

"I'm sorry, my lord." Archie said as he brushed the tears from his face.

"It's all right, Mr. Kennedy. I understand." With that, Lord Edrington looked toward him, so Archie saw the tears that had overflowed.