We Regret...
by Simon

WARNING: death fic with major angst

"Mrs. Hornblower?" He discretely looked over the small, obviously
pregnant woman standing in the open door before him.

"Yes?" She wondered what these men could want with her. High-ranking
Navy officers, that much was apparent, they must be Horry's friends
coming to visit. It couldn't be the other.

It couldn't.

"I'm Commodore Sir Edward Pellew, and this is Captain Bracegirdle.
Please forgive our intrusion, but might we have a word with you?"

Instantly she realized, from a distance, that she felt numb.

Oh God.

No.

Not Horry.

Not now, not when things were going well again. She went white,
Pellew's hand automatically coming up to steady her arm, but she
attempted the courtesies. Her husband would expect no less of her.

"Yes, of course. Do please come in."

She took their hats, placing them on the hall table, hung their
cloaks on the pegs by the door. They looked just like Horatio's
things.

Seated in the somewhat shabby parlour, the men saw that she seemed to
be dazed. Well, she knew why they were there. It wasn't surprising.
Horatio wouldn't have a stupid wife.

She sat with them, her hands unconsciously wringing in her
lap. "Would you gentlemen like some tea? The water is just hot." She
seemed desperate to escape to compose herself before they could tell
her what they had come for.

"Yes, please. That would be appreciated on a cold day." Pellew
allowed her the delay in receiving their news.

Not speaking, the two men looked at the room. The furniture was old
and worn, the décor, such as it was, told of little sophistication
and certainly little money. On a shelf were some of his books. In the
corner were some toys. They seemed to be abandoned.

"I believe that they lost two children to that smallpox outbreak a
year or two ago."

"Lord, and now this."

"Did you know that she was expecting?"

"No."

The two men stood as she came through the door carrying a tray
containing the tea things"the cups and pot and a small cake. Pellew
reached to take it from her as she indicated the low table on which
it was to be placed.

Seated again and with Maria pouring the tea, her hand with the
slightest tremble in it, she quietly asked without looking up. "Has
something happened to my husband?"

Sir Edward was the one to answer. "You were told by the Admiralty
that his ship--that Sutherland was forced aground about six weeks
ago, Mrs. Hornblower?"

"Yes. I understood that he was a prisoner of the French and that he
would likely be well treated because of his rank. I had a letter from
him. He said that he was unharmed."

She looked at the men. They were watching her in case she started
screaming or feinted.

Oh God. But he wrote and said that she wasn't to worry, he was well
treated. He never lied to her. Never.

"Please tell me." She spoke into the thick silence. The men glanced
at each other. She felt sorry for them, having to come and tell her.
It must be very bad if they couldn't bring themselves to speak.

"We've had word that Captain Hornblower was convicted of war crimes
by the French government."

She looked at them. Did this mean that he wouldn't be as well treated
as she had hoped? But he was a senior Captain. They wouldn't harm
him. They wouldn't. There were rules for that sort of thing.

The other man, Bracegirdle spoke now, softly and regretfully. "He was
taken to Paris for execution three weeks ago. We have reason to
believe that the sentence was carried out."

She looked at him, trying to make sense out of the words he was
saying to her. It was like being underwater when she was a child. She
could hear the sounds, but they were muffled and indistinct, almost
like another language. She was suddenly aware of her heart beating in
her chest. It seemed very loud to her.

Horry executed? Her husband was dead? Is that what they had come to
tell her? Well, yes, she told herself. Of course that's why they were
here.

"How would he have been killed?" She asked as if she were inquiring
if they took milk or lemon in their tea. A mild, polite request for
information.

"Most likely they would have used the guillotine. It's said to be
painless, M'am. That's some comfort." The answer equally mild and
soft-spoken. The men exchanged glances again. This calmness wasn't
natural.

It was shock.

"Have you someone we could call for you? Is there someone who can
stay with you, Mrs. Hornblower?"

"My mother, I suppose." Maria gave the smallest of smiles. "Horry
never liked her."

She sat with her terrible stillness again. "Did you know him?"

The older man, Pellew? answered. He spoke gently. "Yes, we both knew
him quite well. He served on Indefatigable with us for several years.
He was an exceptional man, and a friend. He'll be greatly missed."

"Yes." The platitudes were going to make her scream. What did these
men know of her husband? That he could navigate a ship and keep
discipline? That he could shoot and wield a sword when need be? They
knew nothing of him. They had never seen him playing on the floor
with the children, they knew nothing of the man who held her in his
arms at night or tended the baby so that she might sleep. Who shorted
himself with his pay so that she might have just a bit more. They
knew nothing of him.

"He was the finest officer it's ever been my privilege to know,
M'am." It was the other man speaking again, the Captain. He seemed
nice.

"That's kind of you to say, sir."

"I not an idle flatterer, Mrs. Hornblower. I've never met his equal;
the Commodore will vouch for that. His loss is"great."

"Yes."

The older man started talking to her again. "I've made the
arrangements for you to receive his pay. And, forgive me, if there is
anything that you need, please allow me to..."

"Thank you, you're very kind, but that's not necessary. Horatio would
never hear of it."

"I would like to insist, if you'll allow me. Your husband was very
dear to me, Mrs. Hornblower. I would consider it an honor to assist
you, if you will permit me. I could not bear to know that you or his
child wanted for anything."

"Thank you, sir. Perhaps we might speak on this another time, not
now. Not right now."

The awful silence descended again.

"Should I expect his sea chest to be sent home?"

The Captain answered. "I'm afraid that it was lost with Sutherland.
And we've not received word of any effects..." he stopped, realizing
what he had just said. She nodded her acknowledgement. Maria was
interested to see the Commodore seemed to be fighting to retain his
composure. It was as unreal as the rest of the visit.

There seemed nothing else to say. They had delivered their message.

She stood. "Thank you for bringing me the news yourselves, gentlemen.
It must not be an easy task to be the bearers of such tidings. You're
both kind to take this upon yourselves."

They were moving to the door, gathering their hats and cloaks. Pellew
turned back to her, taking her hand in his own.

"Mrs. Hornblower, you truly do have my deepest sympathy. He was the
finest man I've known. I would be honored if you would permit me to
call upon you when I'm in port."

"That would be lovely, sir. Yes, thank you." She seemed to not really
care, still dazed, but was polite to him.

The other man with the odd name said much the same thing. God, would
they never leave?

"You'll have your mother come? Shall we send for her, perhaps send a
carriage?"

"No, thank you. I'll send for her."

Finally, finally, they were gone. She closed the door behind them and
turned to get the tea things from the next room.

Horatio was dead.

She picked up the tray, piled with the dishes and started to the
pantry when she caught her heel on the loose rug edge, tripping.

The dishes crashed with an obscene sound, broken. Useless now,
couldn't be repaired no matter what she did. Finished, over. Their
beauty gone, smashed, leaving ruin and trash and a stain to show
where they had fallen.

And a child.

She was a widow. Her"their"child now fatherless.

They had spent so little time together, really, but she had known
that he was there, that he would walk back in the door someday. She
had held onto that thought as the months and years had passed.

She had loved him. She did love him.

Sitting on the floor, she began to cry, great heaving sobs that
continued on and on until she feared for the safety of her baby. The
racked her body and, from a distance, she heard the sounds she made.
Some part of her mind observed that she sounded like a dying animal.

He was dead. He had been killed. The French had murdered him.

Almost as suddenly as they started, the tears stopped. She sat there
on the floor, unmoving. And as she sat there, she began to think that
she would have to be strong now for Horry. No, for Horatio. She knew
that he had hated that nickname, but it was a small thing that was
just hers, no one else ever had called him that, and so it made her
special to him. It was a part that no one else had of him.

They had cut his head off. Against her will, she could picture it.
His calmness, the sun shining on him, the blade raised up, his
kneeling, the sound of the knife falling, the blood...

Slowly, painfully as an old woman moves, she pulled herself to her
feet.

Somehow she had known that being with him wouldn't last. He was
golden. If she could do everything to make sure that his child was
healthy, some part of him would still be here with her.

Then the last part left of him would survive.

This one would live. She would see to it. Now nothing else mattered.

He was dead.