Release
by Laura

Horatio stared blankly at the cold dirt. He knew he should be weeping but
for some reason he had not yet found the tears. His heart ached inside of
him - it burned! And yet he found no avenue for the anger, the hurt, and the
guilt to escape him.

He fumbled uncomfortably with the hat that rested under his arm. At the
head of the mound of dirt stood a small, simple wooden cross marked with a
name: "Lt. Archibald Kennedy". A friend - HIS friend. "How could you leave
me, Archie," Horatio thought to himself. "Now when I need you most?" The
only answer came from the insane chirping and cawing of the tropical birds
around him. The hot tropical air rose to meet his face like a stench and he
could feel the sweat trickle down the inside of his uniform collar.

Horatio raised his eyes. He was quite alone now - all the others who had
gathered at the small ceremony had left. And perhaps it was better that
way, for none of them truly understood his friend. They couldn't even begin
to comprehend the immense sacrifice he had made. Horatio nodded and
replaced his hat. He understood and that was all that mattered. He would
live each day of his life in tribute to Archie, to show him that he had not
died in vain, and to serve as a symbol for love and sacrifice. To
disappoint would be to fail. Swallowing a lump of emotion, and stolidly
squaring his jaw, Horatio Hornblower strode away from the grave of his
friend.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Later that night ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The door opened and Horatio turned to find his mentor Captain Pellew
already inside.

"Mister Hornblower."

He greeted his protégé simply as he turned to remove his hat and place it on
a nearby table.

"Sir," Horatio returned the greeting, rising from the table he had been
sitting at, attempting to read.

"You are probably wondering what brings me here," Pellew stated, never one
to be subject to small talk.

Hornblower tilted his head to the side slightly. "In all honesty, sir, yes,
I was."

Pellew nodded. "Well, Mr. Hornblower, I am here because I feel it is my
duty to do so. I am deeply concerned about you, sir. You have me worried."

"Sir, you need not concern yourself with me," Horatio said raising his chin.
"I am quite alright."

"Come, Mr. Hornblower!" Pellew admonished. "I will not have you speaking
falsely to me. Of all people, I had thought you would be able to be
truthful with me!"

"Sir, I meant no disrespect, but-"

Pellew cut him off. "Enough, Mr. Hornblower!" He barked, moving in closer
to the young officer. "Now, I know that there are things inside that head
of yours that you are not telling me. Surely, you know an officer cannot
function in such a condition."

Horatio licked his lips then replied,"Yes, I do sir, but-"

Pellew ignored him and continued speaking. "The men tell me you are not
yourself, and you have not been eating."

Horatio shrugged. "I have not found the food to my liking - nor my appetite."
He admitted.

The Captain nodded, satisfied, and clasped his hands behind his back.
"There, see. There is a reason you are not eating. And that reason is?"
He looked to Horatio to complete the thought.

Horatio said nothing. Averting his eyes, he exhaled sharply.

"Come, Mr. Hornblower. Tell me."

He paused. "It's - Archie, sir." Horatio revealed hoarsely.

Pellew's face softened. "I thought as much. I noticed you today at his
service. Quite solid and distant, Mr. Hornblower. No tears for a departed
friend?"

"They buried him like a pauper, sir!" Horatio suddenly blurted out, his
dark eyes rising to meet those of his captain. "In a grave marked only by a
wooden cross bearing his name. He should have at least been buried at sea,
the sea he loved, not in this bloody inferno," He declared, wildly throwing
his arms to encompass the area."No one shall ever know what he did or who
he was-" He was forced to stop for a ball of emotion rose in his throat and
threatened to overtake his voice.

Pellew sighed. "You knew they would bury him in such a manner. In the eyes
of the law, a mutineer is deserving of such a final ceremony - and not a
hero's funeral as you may think."

"He IS a hero, sir," Horatio stated, his voice thick with feeling. "You
shall never know the tremendous sacrifice he has given me - " Tears finally
spilled over from his liquid eyes.

"Indeed I won't," Pellew acknowledged, moving to stand beside the boy he
loved like a son. "But you always will. And you must continue to live his
legacy. Live your life the way he would have wanted you to. In this way he
will live forever in your heart - and in the hearts of men whose lives you
touch in return. He has given you a remarkable gift, Horatio,"

Hornblower sobbed at this speech, and at the sound of his first name on his
captain's lips.

"He - he said to take what he offered and to - to say goodbye. But - it's so hard
to say goodbye, sir!" Horatio finally collapsed, sobs escaped his throat
and he covered his face, embarrassed.

On impulse, Pellew suddenly embraced the young man, his arms strong and
protective around Horatio's trembling shoulders. Horatio allowed his hands
to fall from his face and fold around the back of his beloved captain. He
wept uncontrollably and shamelessly into Pellew's shoulder.

"The pain will get easier, lad - it will always be there, but it WILL get
easier to bear - " Pellew said gruffly. "Never be afraid to cry, my boy.
It's how we all say goodbye - " He quietly said, his voice slightly muffled by
Horatio's brown curls.

Horatio wept for a few minutes longer then pulled away from Pellew's grasp.
"Thank you, sir. I apologize - " He began, wiping at his tear stained face.

Pellew dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "No need to apologize, Mr.
Hornblower. I-I believe I'll leave you to your thoughts now. You'll be
alright, now." He stated simply. "Goodnight," Pellew looked at Horatio's
wet face then clapped him on the shoulder. A slight feeling of relief
crossed his face as he nodded, the crossed the room and disappeared into the
steamy night.

Horatio exhaled at the sound of the closing door. A great burden had been
lifted off of his soul, and for the first time since Archie's death he felt
as if he might make it. Keeping his feelings pent up inside of him did not
serve to honor Archie's spirit. By coming to terms with his emotions he
had, in a way, come to terms with the death of his friend. He sat down
heavily in the chair by the table and for the first time in many months, a
slight smile crossed Horatio Hornblower's face.