A life of duty: Archie and Edrington
by Dutch

Sitting in the kitchen at Dr. Hornblower's, Archie and Lord Edrington sit together quietly being fussed over by Margaret. Lord Edrington looked over at the younger man and saw his distress.

Archie, consumed by his memories, uncomfortably shifted his feet and tried to clear his mind, but images of Horatio relentlessly invaded. "I won't survive." and "We need you." rang in his ears. However, all he could think about was how hard it was to give Dr. Hornblower Horatio's sea chest - the last item of Horatio's besides the books. "I won't fail you!" he thought, with his eyes filling with tears. Ruthlessly, he pushed the thought away, and looked into the depths of his mug.

"You were his best friend, weren't you, sir." Margaret said as she unintentionally bumped him.

Archie, startled by the sudden touch, looked up. He searched his memory for what had just been said by the kindly woman looking down at him, and with a bare hint of a smile, he said, "Yes, I suppose I was. I don't understand why he picked me...."

"Perhaps he saw what the rest of us missed." Edrington posed with a look of compassion.

"What is that?" Archie asked with a catch in his voice. Again his mind was filled with images of Horatio - sunlit and laughing, somber, and bruised by life.

"He recognized your courage." Dr. Hornblower said from the doorway.

The men looked up to see Horatio's father. A man bent with grief and filled with anguish. With stumbling feet, he found a place to sit at the table. Unconsciously, he twisted a scrap of black fabric in his hands. Archie, unable to face him, focused on that fabric until he realized it was Horatio's neck cloth.

With a strangled voice, Archie replied, "I don't know what courage he saw in me, sir. I wasn't able to be there for him when he really needed me. It was always the other way 'round."

Edrington sat silently for a moment, hearing the agony in those words. "Yes, you were there, Mr. Kennedy." he said with quiet confidence. "You rescued him at the bridge in Muzillac, and gave him a continued reason to live. You gave him his life that day - nearly at the expense of your own."

"That's when you displayed the courage he always knew was there." Dr. Hornblower finished. For a moment all are silent caught by their memories, then Dr. Hornblower continued, "You also went back to reclaim his body..." his voice trailed off.

"I'm so sorry, sir. I couldn't do anything more! Here, your grief is so much worse than mine, but you are trying to help me." Archie retreated back into himself thinking "That's just what Horatio would have tried to do."

Edrington sat astounded for a moment. "You retrieved his body?" Archie nodded in response because he didn't trust his voice, and unconsciously rubbed his shoulder where he'd been shot in the attempt. Again, Edrington had a flash of the young man running across the bridge to convince his friend to come back with him, and the two of them racing back just as it exploded.

Their reveries were interrupted by a sniff from Margaret. They looked up to see tears streaming down her face. Flustered, she turned away.

Archie finally controlled his voice enough to say, "We all entered into the same life of adventure and adversity, however, this was one adversity we never wanted or dreamed we'd see." He mentally added, "Horatio, there were so many things I wanted to tell you, so many things I wanted to ask, but now we are both deprived of those experiences."

Horatio's voice echoed in his head, "I will still know all those things, Archie."

The three men sat in silence, broken only by Margaret's tears, and relived their memories. Regretfully, Archie and Lord Edrington rose to take their leave. At the door, they hesitated to look back at Dr. Hornblower, still with Horatio's neck cloth twisted in his hands, and empathized with his loss.

"Goodbye, sir." Edrington said. "It was an honour to know and serve with your son."
"Thank you for bringing him home." Dr. Hornblower said, while looking at Archie.

"I only wish I could have done more, sir." With that, Archie and Edrington closed the door and entered the carriage.
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