Players on the Stage
by Jill D.

Chapter Five


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up the remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste;
Then can I drown an eye (unus'd to flow)
For precious friends hid in deaths' dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan th' expense of many a vanish'd sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances forgone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before;
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor'd, and sorrows end.
--William Shakespeare, sonnet 30

Archie Kennedy tilted his head back, letting the cool evening breeze play
with his hair. Fashion was for shorter hair, but he couldn't bring himself to
cut it off. It was a reminder of younger, happier days.
High above, the red-gold of sunset was being dusted with the first twinkling
stars of evening. He stood, alone, watching evening deepen into dusk, and dusk
into true night.

"I thought perhaps you would be here."

Archie turned, bowing low to the regal, elderly woman behind him.

"My lady."

Barbara acknowledged him with a nod. She retained still some of the beauty
that had been the talk of London when she and Horatio had married.

"Do you have a name?"

Archie smiled, shrugging slightly.

"Does it matter, my lady, what my name is?"

Blue eyes flashed for a moment.

"No, I suppose not. Very well, what shall I call you, then?"

Kennedy watched the stars dance.

"You may call me Hamlet, milady."

They stood in silence for quite a while. Kennedy, noticing the lady's
fatigue, ushered her to a nearby bench. He stood, hands clasped behind himself,
just behind her shoulder.

"He spoke to you of me, then?"

Barbara nodded.
"Toward the end he did, sir. I had wondered, you seeall those years,
Hamlet, I had wondered."

"Ma'am?"

She looked down at her hands, then back out at the sea. Ships rocked there,
some tall masted sailing ships, still, but more, now, with steam engines. How
Horatio had disliked the steam ships.

"I had wondered, you see, who it was his heart was with. I had thought it
another woman no, not poor Maria, buried in her grave all these years, although
I suppose he loved her, in his own way. There was a sadness about him, you see,
that I could never define, never touch. I think Bush knew, but he never spoke of
it."

Kennedy shrugged deeper into his cloak, a romantic affectation he had yet to
do away with. Most who knew him chalked it up to his career as an actor. It,
too, was reminder of a younger time.

"He was my brother, ma'am, in every way that mattered. We forced each other
through the worst of our lives."

"You gave up everything for him, he told me."

Archie tilted his head to look down at the stately woman.

"I was dying, my lady, it mattered not to me that my name died with me.
Horatio was innocent of the charges. He would have sacrificed himself to save
Bush and I, had I not acted. So I confessed."

Barbara looked up into the handsome face. Kennedy smiled.

"'Tis an old story, milady, it causes me no pain to tell it. Not any
longer."

Kennedy's smile faded. He stood silently, watching the first sliver of moon
rise over the treetops.

"You knew Exmouth, then, too?"

"Aye, milady, I did. He was an extraordinary man. I mourned him."

"And Edrington, Bush, Sawyer, Buckland."

"I knew them all, ma'am. And Wellard, poor little Wellard, who never
deserved what happened to him."

Lady Hornblower followed the handsome man's gaze up, into the heavens.

"I am sorry for your loss, ma'am."

The voice behind her, softer than she'd yet heard it, was full of genuine
sympathy. She acknowledged with a slight nod, not trusting her own voice.

Barbara left him alone with his thoughts, not much longer after that. A
fine, crested coach returned her to her home.

Still Kennedy stood, waiting, watching the sea.
Footsteps crunched on the stone chips of the pathway behind him.

Chapter 6
Blood on Blood, One on One

 

Kennedy turned his head slightly, acknowledging his companion.
Horatio came to stand at his side, shoulders almost touching.
Together they watched the merchant fleet bobbing in the Atlantic swell.

"There, H'ratio, do you see? The windjammer."

Dark eyes narrowed slightly. The stiff breeze played with long,
coffee-dark curls.

"Where are we bound for, Mr. Kennedy?"

Archie turned his head slightly, then looked back out to sea.

"America."

Horatio looked down at his hands. They no longer shook,
and the spots of age were gone. To all appearances, he was
twenty-five again.

"Any particular reason, Archie?"

Kennedy shook his head.

"Not really. We need to be somewhere that isn't
England for awhile. Somewhere we aren't likely to meet
anyone who actually knows you."

Hornblower looked at his companion finally.

"My son thinks me dead, Archie. "

Kennedy met his eyes.

"He has to, H'ratio. There is nothing for it but to
let him think that."

Hornblower lowered his eyes first, looking away.
Archie draped an arm across the other man's back for a moment.

"I know, old man. You see now why I couldn't come to you
before I did?"

Horatio straightened.

"Time we were away, Horatio."

Hornblower's mouth curved into a sensual smile.

"I believe I'd like something to eat, Archie."

Kennedy snickered.

Horatio turned to his friend, his brother.
Memory flashed between them

Six months earlier.

 

"Are you certain?"

Hornblower, too ill and tired to argue, simply nodded.
Kennedy lowered himself to sit on the man's sickbed.
He would not rise again from this bed, Archie knew, he could
smell death close.
Kennedy cradled Horatio against his chest, careful of
the brittle bones and paper thin skin. It disturbed him
greatlymore than he could put into thought, evento think
of Horatio as fragile.

He began to lower his head, pausing with his mouth
barely an inch over the other man's throat.

"This is your last chance, H'ratio."

"Archie

Horatio closed his eyes, hands loosely looped in
Kennedy's shirt. The first pressure of lips and teeth against
his throat was startling. A little whimper escaped as those
sharp teeth penetrated his throat.

Archie drank. Horatio's lifeblood warmed him.
It was magnificent, the strength of it reflecting the
man's will, the life he had led.

When he had taken as much as he dared, Kennedy
made sure to stop the rivulets of blood seeping down
the old man's throat. He slashed a small nick in his
wrist with one razor-sharp tooth, holding his arm to
Horatio's mouth.

"Drink."

The huge dark eyes met his. For an eternity, Kennedy
was sure Horatio would refuse this last act. Slowly, slowly,
Horatio - holding his friend's eyes the entire time - brought
the wound to his mouth and drank. He grimaced at the
warmth, the flavor and texture of what ran down his throat,
but still he drank with all the stubbornness Kennedy had
come to expect.

Archie leaned over to kiss the dying man's forehead.

"Sleep now, H'ratio. I'll be waiting."