Disclaimer: Characters and the beginning of the scene belong to C.S. Forester and A&E. The good lines belong to Shakespeare. That leaves me with… not a lot.

Warning: Slash, Horatio/Archie. Go away if you don't like it!

Author's Note: Proof that I cannot write angst to save my life! This starts right before 'The Duchess and the Devil' ends. It's a continuation of the second-to-last scene. The quotes are from 'Romeo and Juliet'.

A Hypothetical Situation

"It almost feels like home."

Archie Kennedy flopped down on the familiar cot in the familiar prison cell. Horatio Hornblower lay on the upper bunk of the other bed. Neither spoke for several moments, until Archie broke the silence.

"You're fond of that Duchess, aren't you?"

"Not really a Duchess, is she? You told me that yourself."

"And you are evading my question."

"Yes, I am fond of her, but only as a friend and comrade. Not half so much as I am, for instance, of you."

Archie smiled, and gazed up at the dark-haired man. It was perhaps logical of him to begin quoting Shakespeare at this point, in reference to the Duchess' career as an actress. However, his words were much more relevant to his present situation than to that conversation.

"O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art

As glorious to this night, being o'er my head,

As is a winged messenger of heaven

Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes

Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him

When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds

And sails upon the bosom of the air."

Horatio loved to listen to Archie's voice. It sounded casual, humorous, almost indolent, but at the same time, thrillingly earnest. He lay, letting the beautiful cadence wash over him, until Archie paused and he realised that he had been importuned to speak again.

"What shall I say?" He asked.

"You should say, 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?' That is your part."

"I refuse to be cast as a girl!" Horatio exclaimed indignantly.

"Men had to play the women's roles in Shakespeare's day," Archie pointed out reasonably. "Besides, you look quite feminine with your hair down."

"So do you. But," Horatio continued, struck by a new train of thought, "What if two characters had to kiss onstage? And they were both really men?"

"I'm not sure the productions demanded that degree of realism. But if they did, well, it's not an insurmountable difficulty."

"But it's against the Articles of War!" Horatio exclaimed in mock horror. Of course he and Archie had kissed before, and he hoped to again. The way the conversation was going, it did seem likely.

"They didn't have Articles of War then, silly. And they wouldn't have applied to actors, anyway. Or were you perhaps thinking of a slightly different situation?" Archie asked teasingly.

"Such as, two utterly hypothetical King's officers imprisoned in, to pick a name at random, Ferrol, who might happen to be quoting, say, 'Romeo and Juliet' to each other?"

"In such a hypothetical situation as that, I would say that the two men kissing might not be a problem either."

"Driven out of their minds by boredom and the strain of imprisonment, they might not even know what they were doing."

It was a contest now, a challenge to see who could keep the hypothetical premise going longer. Archie was not to be outdone.

"Desperate for any human contact…"

"Deprived of female companionship for years on end…"

"Those poor hypothetical officers! I feel almost sorry for them."

Horatio could stand it no longer.

"Except that you know very well it's us!"

Archie laughed.

"Now you come to mention it, our situation does seem to be uncannily similar to that of—oof!"

Horatio, in a quick movement, had jumped down and landed with his hands on Archie's shoulders.

"Juliet didn't have to come down to Romeo,' he said pointedly.

"Romeo didn't have a comfortable cot to lie on, with a luxurious quarter-inch thick straw mattress!"

Horatio lay down next to Archie, leaning on one elbow. A magical aura of unreality pervaded the room. The hot air was soporific. Dust motes danced in the rays of golden sunlight slanting between the bars of the window. Archie rolled over to face his friend, propping himself on one elbow also. Horatio leaned forward slowly, cupping Archie's broad jaw with one hand, and kissed him on the lips. Archie kissed him in return, sliding his free arm around Horatio's waist, under his jacket. Horatio reached forward with the arm his weight was on, until his hand came into contact with Archie's. Their fingers entwined. Several soft, leisurely, kisses later, Archie whispered,

"I don't feel so sorry for those hypothetical officers any more. Do you, Horatio?"

The corners of Horatio's mouth quirked upwards. He kissed his friend again before replying,

"No, Archie, neither do I."

The End

This is my first Hornblower story! Tell me what you think!