Harlequin's Slash Fic

Horatio Hornblower & the Cunning Plan

Title: Horatio Hornblower & the Cunning Plan
Author: Julien
Universe: Hornblower
Characters featured: Horatio/Archie
Category, Word count: Short story; 2068 words
Rating: PG13
Summary: Archie’s cunning plan to take the blame for Sawyer’s death was more cunning than anyone might suppose!
Notes: This is set soon after the movie Retribution. It is dedicated to my particular friend, the most ardent of Archie fans.
First published: 8 December 2002 in Horatio Hornblower & the Prix d’Amor

 

 

Horatio Hornblower & the Cunning Plan

 

Archie Kennedy slowly became aware of who he was again, and of what had happened, and everything else eventually flowed on from there. He was lying on cold hard stone, and he was unsure whether his extremities remembered that they should be attached to the rest of him; he had the most God–awful headache, and he seemed to be all alone. Nevertheless, he smiled.

A while later – it might have been moments or it might have been days for all he could tell – Archie managed to grasp the muslin sheeting, and pull it down from his face. Then he decided to test his voice. ‘I do remember well where I should be,’ he murmured, not too rustily despite his parched throat, ‘and there I am.’ Archie broke into the widest of grins as a successful wriggle of his toes indicated that he was pretty much in working order. ‘So where the hell is my Romeo?’

Another while later – though life was at last beginning to speed through him again – Archie managed to sit up on the long stone plinth, and dangle his legs over the side. The church crypt was dark, of course, except for two candles standing on the floor in their own wax, burning away for – presumably – his benefit. Archie sighed. This wasn’t quite going according to plan, but he supposed that at least one of the more significant matters was resolved. He was alive!

Knowing it was too soon, he nevertheless pushed himself off the plinth, wanting to feel the ground under his feet again. Well, he ended up crumpled, and feeling the ground under most of his uncooperative body. Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop smiling.

Especially when he noticed Horatio lying there on a church pew, stretched out on his back, with one arm flung back over his head, and the other cradling his own breast. It looked precarious to be lying there on a seat not more than ten inches wide, but a few nights in a ship’s hammock taught a man to sleep anywhere he could.

Archie crawled slowly towards his friend. Luckily it wasn’t far. As he drew near, he clumsily – inevitably – knocked over a wooden tumbler and a small bottle that were standing on the floor, but he didn’t care. He only cared for Horatio, he only wanted to reach his Horatio, even though the man hadn’t been polite enough to remain awake.

His Horatio, who lay there so deeply asleep that Archie couldn’t even see his chest rising or falling. Perhaps it was the dim light, or the fact that his eyes were still as uncooperative as the rest of him. Archie tried to blink the blurring away, but that did him no good. He crawled closer, until Horatio’s pale face loomed larger in his sight. So pale, so very pale… The small bottle abruptly took on a ghastly significance.

‘No…’ Archie groaned in protest. ‘God, no… Thou art not conquered! Beauty’s ensign yet is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, and death’s pale flag is not advanced there…’ Fearful, and yet already knowing the worst, Archie reached out a faltering hand to touch that cold but forever–and–aye beautiful face.

And collapsed on the floor again in mingled shock and relief when Horatio stirred! Archie let out a chuckle, which no doubt sounded more like a gurgle to his friend.

Horatio shook himself and sat up on the pew, face downcast. ‘I have been troubled,’ he quietly commented, as if talking to himself, ‘by the most awful dreams, since I lost you.’

‘When did you lose me?’ Archie murmured. ‘I’m sure you’ve been right by my side all along.’

Dropping his head into his hands, Horatio let out the most God–forsaken sigh.

It wasn’t exactly the welcome he’d expected, but Archie found his smile had returned. Slowly, all too slowly, he began levering himself up from the floor, wondering if he could make it onto the pew without Horatio’s assistance.

Horatio froze. He’d been still enough before, but something had now prompted him to perform a passably good imitation of a marble statue. Then two fingers crept apart, and one dark eye peeked out from between them. Horatio stared at Archie kneeling there on the stone floor. Dropped his hands, and stared some more.

‘Why, Horatio,’ Archie lightly quipped, ‘you look as if you’ve seen a ghost!’

A shudder ran through the man – a shudder strong enough to push him to his feet. For the briefest of moments – as if unwilling to let Archie out of his sight for any longer than necessary – Horatio turned his gaze to the plinth. Empty, but for the sheeting. Then those dark eyes were staring hard at his friend again. Oh so carefully, Horatio queried, ‘Archie…?’

‘Well, are you going to help me up or not?’ Archie good–naturedly grumbled. ‘I am frozen through.’

‘Uh…’ was the intelligent reply. Then, with a sudden rush of determination, ‘Yes! Yes, of course.’ And Horatio seemed to force himself to step closer, his hands reaching out as if unsure of what they’d be touching… Horatio’s grip was firm enough, though, and he’d soon hauled Archie to his feet and then put him down again on the pew, mostly upright.

Silence for a long moment. Archie looked up at his friend, knowing that his own mouth was still happily smiling away, and wondering why Horatio’s wasn’t.

‘Archie…?’ Horatio queried once more, as if still profoundly unsure.

‘Who did you expect?’

‘Dear God – no one! I thought –’ Horatio turned back to the plinth again, as if to double–check that it was indeed still empty. ‘Aren’t you…’ His friend seemed to gather himself, though he was paler then ever. ‘Archie, are you a ghost?’

‘No!’ Archie started back in surprise, and almost toppled over the back of the pew. With an effort he righted himself. Something awful occurred to him. Something terrible. ‘Are you telling me… Are you saying that…’ It was too horrible to contemplate, so he took refuge in Romeo and Juliet once more. ‘But he which bore my letter, Dr Clive, was stayed by accident, and yesternight returned my letter back.’

‘What – what in heaven’s name are you talking about?’

‘It’s me, Horatio! It’s your Archie sitting here, alive and in one piece.’

For a long moment, Horatio still didn’t quite comprehend – and who could blame him? Disbelief battled with utter relief on his charmingly open face. ‘But I thought you had died!’

‘And so did everyone else, I hope! That was the point! Have you never seen any Shakespeare?’

Horatio shook his head – whether in negation or trying to dislodge a memory, Archie couldn’t tell.

‘I was playing Juliet, do you see? I took a sleeping potion that made me appear as one dead.’

‘Well, then, I am glad!’ Horatio loudly declared. Though Archie wistfully noted that Horatio didn’t sound very glad. ‘I am glad that I didn’t plunge a dagger into my own heart in despair!’

‘No, you mean you’re glad that you didn’t drink poison,’ Archie helpfully corrected him. ‘You were playing my Romeo.’

‘Playing!’ No, Horatio certainly didn’t seem glad. More like outraged. Outraged that Archie was, after all, alive.

‘Horatio…?’ Archie carefully asked. ‘You don’t seem very happy to see me.’

‘Happy! You expect me to be happy?’ Horatio was glaring fit to burst. ‘I am angry, Mr Kennedy. In fact, I am so damned furious with you, that I could kill you myself all over again, right here and now!’

The thought that Horatio himself had been taken in by the ruse was indeed too ghastly to bear. Rather pitifully, Archie offered, ‘Dr Clive was meant to tell you –’

‘Dr Clive is a dithering fool,’ Horatio retorted, having apparently grasped the entire situation at last, ‘and you had no business entrusting him with such a mission. For God’s sake, next time choose Lieutenant Bush or Commodore Pellew, or somebody else with a mind still intact.’

Archie screwed up his face, afraid of the weight of Horatio’s mourning. ‘You really thought I was dead?’

‘Yes!’

‘Oh God… Horatio, I am so sorry.’

But then Horatio was swiftly sitting beside him, taking Archie into his arms, holding him as if he’d never ever let him go. ‘I have you back again now,’ Horatio said, his voice rasping with emotion. ‘Don’t I?’

‘Yes.’

They sat like that for a while, and Archie slowly began feeling warmer. It seemed he was alive, indeed – though he wondered if he could possibly survive the way his head was aching.

Nevertheless, something important eventually occurred to him. ‘Horatio? When you sat there by my bed in the infirmary, you really thought I was dying?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then why…’ His voice betrayed him with its smallness. ‘Why didn’t you hold me?’

Horatio’s arms tightened unbearably for a moment; and Horatio pressed his face against Archie’s hair, to murmur into his ear. ‘Because you were so happy, Archie. You were so peaceful. If I’d touched you – it would have dismasted me. Unmanned me.’ Horatio sighed. ‘Your last moments were so beautiful, you didn’t need me clinging to you, wailing like a bean sidhe.’

‘Oh, Horatio…’ And they kissed. Passionately. Which certainly managed to banish the last sluggishness from Archie’s blood.

But that was when there was a rattle at the door, and running footsteps. Horatio broke the kiss, but he didn’t deign to let Archie out of his embrace.

It was Bush, with the good doctor nervously following along behind. ‘Oh, thank God!’ Bush breathlessly exclaimed when he saw them together. ‘Then all is well?’

‘All is well,’ Horatio confirmed, ‘now.’

Bush looked from one to the other of them, realising something of what each must have suffered. He dropped his head in self–castigation.

Dr Clive tentatively approached Archie, felt for his pulse, peered into his eyes. ‘All is well,’ he echoed at last. He explained to Horatio: ‘I thought Lieutenant Bush had told you. You seemed so stoic!’

Bush had disappeared into the far reaches of the crypt – he came back with a folded blanket in his hands, and a flask. Archie wouldn’t move away from Horatio’s embrace, so Bush grimaced and wrapped the blanket around both of them, before helping Archie to swallow some rum and water.

‘So, what has happened?’ Archie asked, feeling immediately better for the sustenance. ‘The court martial is over.’

It was Horatio’s turn to grimace. ‘One moment I was facing disgrace and the gallows,’ he grumbled, ‘and the next it’s all over, and I’m made Commander –’

Archie grinned. All was indeed well.

‘– and no one seems to care,’ Horatio was continuing, ‘that a good man’s name is blackened, that a hero is considered the worst of scoundrels – and, anyway, Lieutenant Bush has seniority.’ Horatio let out an impatient growl. ‘It was a whitewash! They found a scapegoat, the scapegoat died – or so everybody thought! – and suddenly it was all over.’

‘Which is exactly what I was counting on,’ Archie concluded. He couldn’t stop grinning. ‘Captain Hornblower,’ he added, savouring the sound of it. ‘Sir.’

‘It was all over,’ Horatio repeated, abruptly looking a little lost. ‘As if the pain of it hadn’t even been real. As if the danger hadn’t been real. As if none of it had been real at all.’

‘But that’s how it works, Horatio,’ Archie insisted. ‘Just let it be, and walk away with your commission! It’s the perfect end to a perfectly cunning plan.’ Under the blanket, he nudged Horatio with an elbow. ‘You have your own ship now – you can sneak me aboard – I’ll be your cabin boy!’ And Archie was sure that his cheeky grin conveyed all the delights to be had from that situation.

‘Despite which,’ Bush added, ‘I’d be honoured to be your Lieutenant.’ And he smiled – just enough to prove that he could be tolerant even if he couldn’t quite approve – and offered them both a respectful nod.

‘Come,’ the doctor said, knowing that he wasn’t going to be offered a berth. ‘We have a room prepared for Mr Kennedy, a private room, while the Retribution is made ready to sail.’

Archie leaned in close to Horatio, just for a moment, and murmured, ‘All’s well that ends well!’ And then they managed to stand, and Bush moved to take Archie’s other arm, and they slowly shuffled their way out of the crypt.

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