Pieces of a Friend
by DasNDanger


Commander Horatio Hornblower had only come aboard Renown to collect
his scanty belongings, insignificant pieces of his life that melded
with the wardroom to make it his home. This was his reason for being
there, and it had taken his hurried walk to the pier and the
nauseating voyage in an open boat under the blazing Jamaican sun to
convince himself of that. But when he entered the wardroom, frigid
winds like those of Portsmouth in the dead of winter melted away the
white-hot sun; his life still clung to the room, but all that was
Archie's had vanished.

Nothing was left for Horatio to hold onto, not his friend, not even a
piece of his friend. He had been merely an exhalation, gone forever
and lost in a sea of memories, with nothing tangible to pull him
back.

Horatio's spirit groaned inside him as the realization of his own
weaknesses punched at his belly. He had been such a fool to allow
this amiable man slip through the locked gates of his soul. Why had
he let himself care so much for someone who would be wrenched from
his heart with such agonizing disgrace? Never would he be so foolish
again never would he allow his walls to be breached.

With depressing success he had warded Archie off in those early days
aboard Indefatigable. He had done so well as to nearly kill him with
that tiller and accept Simpson's word that he would never have to
see Kennedy again. Why couldn't he have killed Archie that
frightful night? The twinge of pain he felt then was nothing
compared to the cannon shot that now bombarded his heart.

Horatio groaned again as he dropped into a chair his hands
attempting to steady his head as his elbows crashed onto the table.
He sat still for a moment head in hands, regretting every
memory that stirred in his brain. Why had he been such a fool to be
captured by the Dons, why didn't he fight and die at sea and
spare himself that wretched discovery in El Ferrol? Why didn't
he just let Archie die instead of taking it upon himself to care and
bring him back to life? Now he can never bring him back.

El Ferrol. That was where it happened. Behind those stone walls and
locked gates Horatio had felt secure. But it was there that this
agreeable young man crept past his fortress and it was there that
Horatio's tongue unlocked the secrets of his heart out of sheer
boredom and restlessness. There was nothing else to do in El Ferrol
but talk. So Horatio spoke of dreams while Archie told of nightmares.

No, he was wrong, there was something else to do. They had tended to
one another when weak and ailing, they had sacrificed food for one
another when starving, and they had remained blind to all of the
indignities each one had to endure throughout that degrading
existence. It was there that Archie evolved from an acquaintance to
a friend to a brother, the brother he always had prayed for. And
Horatio never noticed that his prayer had been answered until that
brother was taken from him. Why didn't he tell Archie how much
he cared, why did he remain the officer in the end and not the friend?

In a blind misery, Horatio sat simmering in his regrets and never
noticed as Mr. Bush entered the room.

"Excuse me, Mr. Hornblower, I was told I would find you
here." His raspy voice slammed into Horatio's dismal
thoughts and nearly scared him half to death.

Disguising himself in formality with little success, he shot to his
feet, self-consciously straightening his uniform; his mind so clouded
with fragments of bleak memories that he could not recall all the
protocols of rank.

"Mr. Bush, Sirh'umMr. Bush, I had just come to
collect my things and," Horatio stumbled, embarrassed that
he had allowed himself to be caught off guard.

"Commander, Sirthe steward is to see to all of that for
you." Bush politely reminded him. Horatio did not notice as
Bush's inquisitive brow gave way to understanding. "Mr.
Kennedy's chest and belongings were removed right after his
confession." Bush had said too much.

"Oh, I see," Horatio spoke his words to an unfocused object
just over Bush's shoulder; grateful he no longer needed to
explain his reason for being there. "I had thought his family
might have wished to have them, and since I'm sailingI
thought" Horatio was hoping that his face was not telling a
different tale that he wanted, no, that he needed a piece of
Archie for himself to ease the burning pain in his heart.

"No, Sir, his things were disposed of, they felt it not
appropriate that such a man" Bush paused and looked at him
with eyes Horatio suddenly found consoling. "Sir, they do not
understand, they had to do what was done; Kennedy left them no
choice."

Bush was still looking at him, but Horatio could not determine if
that look was keen or dull. It annoyed him nonetheless. "Sir,
if I may presume, what really happened that night?" He queried.

"No, Mr. Bush, you may not presume." Horatio snapped, and
then pretended to search for nonexistent items. He was not going to
make the same mistake and be caught off guard by another likeable
soul. He would never reveal the secrets of that night. How could he
explain his fear of dying an ignoble death as a result of a madman or
his resolve to save a ship and a crew headed for disaster? How could
he ever explain opportunity; or describe the bravery of a brother
facing a madman alone, then not alone? Brother helping brother,
working together to save a ship and her crewand each other. And
how could he ever reveal that he was a bloodless coward, allowing his
dying friend to carry all the weight of the shame and disgrace to his
grave?

Horatio would never see that Bush saw neither a criminal nor a coward.

"Sorry, Horatum My apologies, Sir." Bush had
caught himself. He reached in and groped about his jacket, removing
a small bundle. "I have something for you, Sir, from Kennedy. He
wasn't sure if you would make it before hehe wasn't sure
when he'd see you again." Bush handed him an envelope,
lettered by the shaking hand of a dying man, bound with the ribbon
from Archie's queue.

Waves of relief and apprehension swept over Horatio face for an
instant, then it went to stone to hold back a tear.

"Thank you, Mr. Bush, I will read it later." He said,
sticking it into his jacket's breast pocket with the formal air
of an unconcerned officer.

"There is one more thing, SirDr. Clive, he thought you might
want this" With an apprehensive hand Bush reached out and into
Horatio's warm palm he placed a small, cold ball.

Horatio was frozen he could find neither breath nor heartbeat.
He studied the small ball; dry, lifeless blood still filling the pits
on its surface. He held in his hand the horrid object that took his
friend's life as if he had held that life itself.

"Sir, just to let you know, I understand why it had to be done,
and I will always respect Mr. Kenney for what he did." Bush
consoled.

But Horatio stood mute. Gazing at the reddened ball that lay in his
palm, he whispered in his aching heart, "And I will always love
him."