The guards, of course, were properly embarrassed at being presented with a stark naked prisoner, and therefore more than happy
to accede to Lieutenant Kennedy’s acerbic request that they be permitted to pause at the officers’ cabins so that
Lieutenant Hornblower might dress. From there it was logical that Kennedy and Bush also be granted a moment to wash and put
on fresh shirts. The sergeant of the marines was a sensible man who knew as well as they did that Sawyer was not fit to command.
He seemed quietly glad to be able to do them the small kindness of a few moments of privacy.
“Are you all right?” Archie asked Horatio quietly, once they were alone in their cabin. Horatio’s hands
were shaking slightly as he pulled clothing from his sea chest. Archie knew that his friend did not handle embarrassment
well, and was undoubtedly cursing himself for his moment of silly exuberance, which he probably saw as a failure on his own
part as both officer and man.
“Yes,” Horatio said, shaking out an impossibly white pair of breeches. Archie had no idea how the man managed
to keep his uniforms so clean, under the circumstances of their lives. “I’m fine. It’s simply that...”
His jaw was clenched tightly, his cheeks slightly red. Archie glanced at the door, thought of the guard waiting outside,
and forced himself to remain still. “I was very foolish.”
“You can hardly be blamed for wanting to be clean,” Archie said, digging through his own chest and despairing
of finding a clean shirt. He had no idea where the damned things went, but he always seemed to be lacking...
He felt a gentle tap on his shoulder and turned to accept the silently offered shirt. “It wasn’t simply to be
clean,” Horatio said. He glanced at the door and hesitated, then dropped his voice low as he continued. “It
was for you.”
Archie was pulling the shirt over his head, and paused to peer at Horatio through the neckhole. It must have been terribly
comic, but Horatio didn’t laugh; he simply looked back at Archie with those dark and speaking eyes.
“I rather thought it might be,” Archie said after a moment. “Or at least I hoped.” He tugged the
shirt the rest of the way on and began tucking it in. Might as well be neat for the walk to execution. “Though I did
entertain the notion that the display was meant to benefit Mr. Bush. Or Buckland.” Horatio’s nose wrinkled at
the thought, and Archie couldn’t resist throwing one more log on the fire. “Or Hobbs.”
“Ugh!” Horatio turned away with a weak little laugh, taking a clean waistcoat from his trunk. “You’ve
a wicked mind, Archie.”
“So do you, apparently,” Archie pointed out, buttoning himself back up into uniform.
“I just thought...” Horatio’s head was down, staring at the buttons that were giving his hands an unwarranted
amount of trouble. “I was just so happy that things might settle a bit around here. I suppose I took leave of my senses.”
“Not half so badly as Sawyer,” Archie muttered, and Horatio glanced up at him. Their eyes met in wordless, weary
understanding. Things were bad indeed, now. “And so we’re off to Kingston to be hanged.”
Horatio’s mouth tightened, rebellion flashing in his eyes, but he glanced at the door and held his tongue. Archie looked
as well, calculating how far Sergeant Whiting’s kindness might stretch, and decided to risk it. A body could only hang
once, after all.
He moved to Horatio’s side, catching the man’s thick curls in both hands and pulling him down for a kiss before
he had time to react. There was no resistance, even after the initial burst of surprise passed; Horatio kissed him almost
fiercely, channeling his unhappiness and defiance into passion. God, if only they had just a bit more time...
A knock at the door reminded them that they did not. As they stepped away from each other, the marine’s apologetic
voice came from outside. “Sirs, we really must be moving on.”
“Just one moment!” Archie called, overriding Horatio’s weary “Of course.” He caught Horatio’s
arm, gripping tightly until the man turned and met his eyes. “Whatever happens, Horatio,” he said softly, not
allowing his gaze to waver at all, trying to convey his sincerity through sheer force of will. “Whatever happens...it
was worth it. Worth everything.”
Horatio nodded slightly. “Everything,” he agreed quietly. Archie released him, and he looked back down to his
waistcoat. “Back to prison with us, then.”
“Oh, the times we’ve had in prisons, Horatio!” It was a hollow laugh, but the best he could do in the moment.
“I hardly think Lieutenant Bush would appreciate being a captive audience to the sort of things you and I came up with
in our last incarceration,” Horatio said, a smile tugging at his lips as he finished dressing. “Or that I should
be quite comfortable if he did.”
“And you call me the wicked one.” Archie stepped to the door and glanced at Horatio for confirmation to open
it. “Thank you for the shirt, by the way.”
“I shall expect it back,” was the mock-severe reply. It was good that Horatio was relying on gallows humor instead
of bleak sullenness. It allowed Archie to manage a smile and pretend things could still be all right. A miracle might still
“I’ll try not to dirty it up,” he promised with a smile. “Are you ready?”
Horatio nodded, setting his jaw and clasping his hands at his back. Every inch the officer; damn Sawyer and his madness.
He looked like he was preparing to face French guns, not a short walk to a makeshift brig. Horatio’s seemingly boundless
supply of dignity and self-possession never failed to impress Archie, even though he knew the man well enough-- intimately
enough-- to know that there were limits. Sometimes even the great Hornblower broke down, though only behind locked
doors. Archie tried never to underestimate what it said about Horatio’s trust in him, that he was allowed to see those
He opened the door and stepped into the hallway, trying to put some of the same starch into his own posture as he nodded to
Lieutenant Bush and the sergeant. At least they’d take their pride with them to the gallows. True British sailors
to the end.
Some deeply rooted core of optimism rebelled against the idea. It might not be the end. Horatio was blessed with the devil’s
own luck, after all; there might yet be a twist of events that would set them free. They had survived and walked away from
Meeting Horatio’s eyes, he saw the anger still simmering there. Horatio had not yet given up-- would not, until they
put his body into the sea. Archie nodded slightly, cementing his own resolve. They would not resign themselves passively
to fate. They would wait for their moment, and seize it, and again stand together and free...
He swore it, silently, vowing not to surrender his mind though the bastards might have his body. He made his promise to any
saints and angels in earshot, as the guard turned the key in the lock and the gulls cried over Samana Bay.