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Not So Deep as a Well, Nor So Wide as a Church-Door (Fanfic)

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Not So Deep as a Well, Nor So Wide as a Church-Door (Fanfic)

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Horatio and Archie
TITLE: Not So Deep as a Well, Nor So Wide as a Church-Door
RATING: G
WORD COUNT: 1510
PAIRING, IF ANY: Horatio/Archie, mentioned
SPOILER WARNING: Through Retribution
DISCLAIMER: Not mine
SUMMARY/NOTES: Companion piece to "Fortune and Men's Eyes," covering much of the same ground, but as it happened, not told in retrospect.



The hinges creaked and the door clanked shut, followed by the scrape of the key turning in the lock. The guard led Horatio away. After the echoes of their footsteps had dwindled to nothing, the only sound besides Archie’s labored breathing was the buzzing of flies.

“He won’t deny it, even now,” Archie said. “I very much fear he intends to bear the blame.”

“Do you think he did it, though?” Bush said. “Remember, I wasn’t there to see.”

“I do not,” Archie said. “It wasn’t possible. Captain Sawyer wasn’t within arm’s reach of any of us. I should know; I reached for him, once I realized he’d backed over the hatchway itself, and my fingers barely brushed his coat. If any of us even appeared to have pushed him, it would have been I.” Archie’s sigh became a gasp, and then a cough, and he struggled to raise himself onto his elbows. "I'd own it, if I could."

Gingerly, Bush swung his feet over the edge of his bed, and stood beside Archie’s, supporting him while he arranged the pillows behind his shoulders. He sat down on the edge of Archie’s bed, staring intently at his face. “Do you mean that?”

“Of course I do. I owe him my life, William. Why wouldn’t I give what’s left of it to save him?”

“In that case,” said Bush, “I think we had best speak to the Admiral.”

“With the court-martial already under way? Would it not be seen to compromise him?”

“That depends upon it being seen,” Bush pointed out. “Our status is more ambiguous in any case; he might not be advised to visit us as prisoners, but he certainly might visit us as patients.” He pulled the bell they’d been provided, in case of medical necessity. “Close your eyes and don’t speak, now.”

When the guard arrived, Bush was back in his own bed, wearing a grave expression. “What’s amiss?” the soldier asked. “Does it really want rousing the doctor out of his bed?”

“Out of his cups, more like,” Bush said. “He’d be little enough help here even if he were sober, man. You can see for yourself the lad’s dying. He hasn’t much time left to him, and he asked to speak to the Admiral before it’s too late. Will you take him the message?” He saw the doubt in the guard’s eyes. “For the sake of a dying man. You’d want someone to do the same for you.”

The guard nodded. “I’ll do it,” he said. “I make no guarantees, like, but I’ll speak to him, at least.”

Pellew walked in, the splendid coat and sash he’d worn at the trial now gone, changed for a linen waistcoat better suited to the tropical heat, his neckcloth likewise abandoned. “What’s this about?” he said, pulling up a chair between their beds and sitting without ceremony. “You’d not have called me here for a simple farewell.”
“We may have a way out of our dilemma, sir,” Bush said. “Kennedy here was speaking of taking the blame. Would that serve?”

“What, change one hanging for another?” Pellew scowled. “I like that no better. Unless...” He grasped his chin in his hand, biting his knuckle. “Mr. Kennedy, would you mind very much being officially dead?”

“Officially? I’m to be dead in truth before long. How is that different?”

“You’ll not die,” Pellew said. “Not if skill can save you. Nor will you hang. I’ll not permit it.”

“I lack the strength for riddles, sir,” Archie said. “Will you speak more plain?”

“Your pardon,” Pellew said, sounding distracted. “I had not thought to tell you yet, and this latest complication drove it from my mind. There is a physician, just arrived in Kingston, and the best naval surgeon in the fleet. I have spoken with him, and he thinks he might save you yet. I would like to save both you and Hornblower. I had thought I might, until Lieutenant Buckland had his say, and Captain Hammond...well, never mind that. Would you accept your life, at the cost of your career?”

“I don’t see how that’s to be done,” Archie said. “If I don’t die of my wound, they’ll hang me for the crime, if I confess to mutiny. As I gladly will, if it might save Horatio. Why put your surgeon to the trouble?”

“Ah, but if you were seen to die,” Pellew said. “I’m afraid Lieutenant Kennedy could live no more, if you chose this path. And he would die disgraced. But Archie, under some other name, might live to see England yet. Is that a bargain you’d choose to make?”

“What would my life be, in that case?” Archie said. “I’ve no money of my own, and I’m too old now to start as a mid again, even if there were no one to recognize me.”

“The Navy would be shut to you, I fear,” Pellew said. “As for money... those three Spanish prizes would never have been won without your courage at the fort. I’ve no need for my share of them, and I did little enough to earn it. Properly invested, it would bring a modest income, enough to support a gentleman, assuming he avoided the lures of racing-horses or deep play.”

“I can’t let you--”

“You most certainly can, Mr. Kennedy, and what’s more, you will,” Pellew said, his voice as gruff as ever it had been on the Indefatigable’s quarterdeck. “As your death will be my responsibility, so will your life, and I’ll hear no more about it. Shall I explain?”

“Please.” Archie leaned back against the pillows, closing his eyes.

“Captain Sawyer’s...” Pellew paused, searching for the word, “infirmity, had not gone unnoticed, at least by certain people in the Admiralty. In light of his heroic reputation, it was not thought advisable to publicly remove him from command. Lieutenant Bush was charged with appraising the situation, and advising those concerned how it might be achieved discreetly.”

“You can see why I was cautious, and slow to trust,” Bush broke in. “I apologize. I’d have served us better if I’d been more rash.”

“Never mind that now,” Pellew said. “What’s done is done. As it stands now, your confession and your death would serve us all. Those who witnessed the trial would be content that the guilt attached to you and not to Hornblower, Sawyer’s end published as fallen in honourable battle, and yours, to the public outside the courtroom, a result of battle as well. No hangings, and for the service at large, no disgrace. To put it plainly, I would be forever in your debt.”

“How do you propose to do it?”

“You must be seen to die,” Pellew said. “After you make your confession, of course. A matter of physic... there are drugs that will give its very appearance, and allow us to carry you out. With the further advantage, of course, that you will be well sedated so that Dr. Maturin can carry out his operation with as little pain as possible to you. Sandbags in a closed casket, a little-attended service, and the deed is done.”

Archie chuckled, a weak sound. “When I was a boy, I used to dream of treading the boards. I never thought my role would be Juliet!”

Pellew’s startled expression became a grin. “Let us only hope your Romeo won’t have such a drastic reaction!” Archie’s eyes flew open. “Don’t look so guilty, lad. Did you think I didn’t know?”

“But--”

“There are no secrets on a frigate, not to a captain worth the name,” Pellew said. “You two were always careful, and there was never anything to force me to take notice. But I could see how it stood between you. Still does, obviously. Seemed to do you both good, Articles be damned.” He shook his head. “Juliet’s an unlucky comparison. Say rather Hero, for you’re making a hero’s choice, and that ended happy.” He took Archie’s hand between his. “We can’t tell him just yet. He’ll need to take his new commission -- yes, he’s to have one -- and sail home. As will you, when you’re strong enough for the journey. Once you’re there, you can tell him yourself.”

Archie’s smile was faint, but very real. “In that case, sir... I accept.”

“Very good, Mr. Kennedy.” Pellew smoothed Archie’s pillow. “Rest, now. You’ll need your strength to appear at the trial tomorrow. And... thank you.” He waited for a moment, but received no answer, because Archie was already asleep.

“A brave man,” Bush commented, as Pellew rose from his chair.

“None braver, Mr. Bush,” Pellew said. “You rest, too. The sooner you’re fit to travel, the better. There are arrangements will have to be made, and I’ve none other to trust with the details. I’ll require your help.”

Bush touched his forehead in salute. “Aye aye, sir. Will that be all?” At Pellew’s nod, he pulled on the bell, and waited for the guard to show him out.
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