Respite (Hornblower/Peacekeepers Crossover)
It was not like waking from an ordinary sleep. His spirit felt
a corresponding heaviness weighed his whole body down. He could not remember
where he was supposed to be. Had there been a battle? If so, he must be in
the sick berth but he could feel a gentle breeze on his face and there were
none of the smells that usually filled that part of the orlop deck. No
wounded men crying out in agony or muttering in fever.
He took mental stock of his body. It seemed to be whole but that might mean
nothing. His father had told him that men who lost an arm or a leg could
feel pain in the missing limb for weeks or months after it was gone. Just as
he began to be afraid someone close by spoke to him.
" It's all right Horatio. You're still in one piece. Why don't you open your
eyes and see for yourself?" A pleasant voice, he thought. A refined accent
but overlaid with good humor and kindness. It was very familiar. He turned
his head towards the speaker. His eyelids were very heavy and it was an
effort to open them, but his curiosity was aroused.
A young man was sitting next to his bed. He had hair the color of barley
stalks and his blue eyes seemed to hold the sea and the sky in them.
"That's better" he said, and smiled with infinite sweetness.
"Archie?" This had to be a dream. It was almost unbearable, because he
seemed so close and looked so happy and well, and alive.
"It's not a dream," said Archie gently. He took Horatio's hand and gave it a
"But I saw you die Archie" Horatio whispered. "Oh God, Archie I saw you
die!" He felt a terrible constricting pain in his chest. A great wave of
misery washed over him and he wept with abandon. Archie stroked his hair and
whispered words of comfort.
He grew calm after a while. He felt better but his weariness
had not left
"Am I dead then?" he asked.
"No Horatio you're not," Archie was wiping his face with a cloth that
smelled of flowers. "I've brought you here to rest for a time"
Horatio considered this for a while as he took a little more notice of his
surroundings. He was in a beautiful courtyard with a white colonnade on all
sides. He could hear the pleasant babble of running water and the trilling
of birdsong. The quality of the light was extraordinary. It was like
sunshine on the most perfect summer day imaginable.
"You have the power to do that?"
"Yes, I'm very well connected you know!" the grin that went with this
statement was full of mischief and Horatio felt his spirits begin to rise a
little. He knew he had not laughed for a long time.
"My ship, Archie and my men, what has happened to them? I don't remember
"There were many ships Horatio and many battles won, and a few lost. You
became an admiral and a peer of the realm, just like I always said you
would." Horatio nodded. Yes, he remembered now. It had been a long life and
not always a happy one but he had done his duty.
"But I don't understand" he said "I am not old, am I?" He was tired but it
was not the weariness of old age. He held up an arm. It was that of a young
"No Horatio you are not old. This is a different lifetime. You are a soldier
now. Do you remember?"
"No!" said Horatio vehemently "No, I don't!" He was suddenly afraid. There
was a well of agony in his soul and he did not dare to look down into it.
Archie got up and sat on the side of the bed. Horatio saw that his eyes were
full of compassion
"You always take everything on yourself," he said "but it has been too much
for you this time." He took both of Horatio's hands in his own. There was
consolation in his touch. "Let me help you, Captain Feeley"
It had been very easy once John had made his mind up. He turned
the TV off,
got dressed and went over to the armory. A captain could sign a handgun out
without being questioned. Within twenty minutes he was back in his quarters
ready to blow his brains out. Another few seconds and his torment would have
been over. Then the door burst open and his well-meaning friends ran in and
knocked the gun away. Hauled to his feet and trapped in the arms of a fellow
officer, he had wept. He had missed his chance. They would never let him
escape now. He didn't fight them when they made him lie down on his bed. He
lay still while the doctor pushed the needle in his arm. Temporary oblivion
was better than none.
"The burden was too great. Let me help"
John opened his eyes again and met an unwavering blue gaze.
"Why weren't you there with me Archie?" he asked.
"You know that already". He did know it. He remembered a conversation, an
unspoken one, in a place just like this courtyard. Archie was done with the
earth. It had nothing more to teach him, but he would wait close by until
John was ready to travel with him.
"You can give me all of it," said Archie. His eyes seemed to contain an
endless ocean. Even when he had been in the grip of earthly despair they had
reflected the purity of his soul. Now that he was free of the constraints of
earth they had become a window to the very heart of God. John felt as if his
own soul was being drawn into them an exposed to a light of limitless
brilliance. In a fraction of time he understood the greater purpose of the
universe and was able to understand, accept and forgive all that had so
devastated him in Bosnia.
They were in a hospital room together. John looked down at
white faced and exhausted in the bed. Restraining straps were fastened
"You've made them nervous" said Archie lightly.
"I wish you were staying with me," said John daunted by the thought of the
struggle for recovery ahead of him. Archie had restored his faith in the
strength of his immortal soul but he would have little or no memory of that
once he returned to his mortal body. So much was still up to him alone.
"You are going to get better" Archie put an arm around his shoulders "but
you have to get into the habit of taking help when it's offered. You should
go back now. An old friend will be here to see you in a minute"
"Who is it?" John felt an urgent tug and was drawn rapidly towards his
""I'll give you a hint when he gets here." Archie was laughing.
"But how will I..." It got dark suddenly and he forgot the question.
It was not like waking from an ordinary sleep. His brain was
his skull. They had drugged him to the eyeballs of course. He didn't have
the strength to move. He opened his eyes. He was in a room he'd never seen
before. Did anyone know he was here? He called out for someone to come and
help. His voice was too feeble to make it past the door but in a few
moments it opened anyway and a medical orderly came in. He was a big man
with a lived in face. His eyes were kind though, and he came over to the bed
with a smile.
"Now then Sir, how are you feeling?" John didn't know and didn't waste his
"Thirsty I'd say," said the orderly, pouring him a glass of water and
lifting his head up so he could drink it without choking. John studied the
man's face. Had he seen him before?
A confused picture came briefly into his mind. He was back on the deck of a
sailing ship crowded with men in uniform and equipment. He was settling some
kind of dispute over a chicken, of all things.
"I'll take the straps off sir so we can get you washed and shaved but you
'ave to promise not to jump up and take a swing at me." He was speaking with
mock severity and John found himself smiling a little.
"I promise," he whispered.
"That's the ticket sir. I'll just fetch a few things and then we'll soon
'ave you shipshape." He patted John's arm "I've seen 'em handle your kind of
trouble in here lots of times. They'll have you back to your old self before
you know it."
John found himself overwhelmed by this straightforward kindness. Tears ran
down his face. "Thank you" he said, and gripped the man's hand as if it was