Rating: soft R
Spoilers: For "Hamlet"
Distribution: Yuletide, the Blackberry Patch and If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: Horatio has survived and goes forth to tell Hamlet's story, but there is another story he will never tell.
Author's Note: Written as a NYR 2006 fic for Peak in Darien.
Disclaimer: All characters are created by William Shakespeare, aka Billy the Bodacious Bard. No copyright infringement is intended, though I would be deeply curious to see who would actually file a lawsuit on this one. Ah, the joys of public domain.
Good Night, Sweet Prince
Hamlet's eyes had been startlingly blue, as blue as fresh spring violets. As they stared up at him, sightless, from the face of the dead prince lying on the floor of Elsinore's main hall, Horatio wished he could tear his sight away from those perfect eyes that had, moments before, urged him to live and tell the tale of what had transpired to bring Denmark under the heel of young Fortinbras, the almost unbelievable twists and turns of brother against brother, ghosts appearing with commands of vengeance, madness and self-slaughter and poisoned foils, the ending of a dynasty and the death of so many that the dead outnumbered the living.
That was the tale Hamlet wished him to tell, and he would, as far and as wide as it might be told. If it took him all his life and that life was as long as Methuselah's, he would tell and retell the story until the whole of Denmark, of Europe, of the world knew of the tragedy that had befallen the royal house. But it was not the tale that Horatio remembered with greatest clarity. That tale was one that would live quietly within his memory, always closest to the foreground of his mind, yet it would never pass the portals of speech, save perhaps in the murmurings of sleep. It was Hamlet who had told him he sometimes spoke as he slumbered, after all.
Horatio remembered a day in Copenhagen under a brilliantly blue sky in the pleasant warmth of June. There had been a festival, one that had involved dancing with charmingly pretty country girls to riotous music and the drinking of a good deal of ale. The day had worn on in a dreamy, perfect light that is possible only when one is eighteen and full of assurance that life will become better and better with each passing year, utterly forgetting any troubles or misgivings. When night had fallen at last, the two friends had found themselves in a drinking house of moderate repute, savoring something that was at least pretending to be ale but seemed to be less strong than the rather questionable-looking pitcher of water on the table.
"I tell you, Horatio," Hamlet had said, leaning so far back in his chair he was in danger of toppling to the floor, "tis a lovely thing to be the likes of us, is't not?"
"Never shall you hear a word from me that tells aught but the same," Horatio replied, "so long as Lady Fortune keeps us in her good graces. But still, alas, they say that those who stand upon the pinnacle of her wheel do in short order find themselves in the plummet that leads once more to the bottom again."
"Shush, fie on it, good friend," Hamlet said, letting his chair fall back to rights again. "I'll not hear such gloomy, melancholic meanderings! The wide world is our plaything, and we the children who shall set it spinning."
"Until it tumble on its side like a top that has lost its movement, my lord?" he had asked.
"If it be so, then so twill be, but I'll not live this moment of bliss in the shadow of might-be's colored in blackish weeds. Think you it would change the future were I to be full of dole and somber as a clergyman in Lent?"
"Nay, that's true enough. Mourning before the event never yet the event forestalled, save if it increased good sense and carefulness in the mourner," Horatio had replied.
"Well, I've n'er had good sense nor carefulness, so would be lost upon the likes of me, Horatio," he replied as he tipped the last dregs of ale into his mouth. "A pox upon me but I do not feel tired as yet. Is not the quality of strong drink to make one drowsy and full of sleep?"
"I have heard it is so, my lord, and yet, in faith, little knowledge have I from mine own experience. Still, it is but early," Horatio had said, looking blearily towards the proprietor. "What, my good man, is the hour?"
"Tis just struck three o'the morning, sir," he replied, casting an impatient look at the pair.
"Three! So the night has grown so old it is young again, like a gray-beard in his second childhood," Hamlet said with a chuckle. "Come, fair Horatio, we needs must find a bed to sleep upon else we shall fall into the gutter like unmannered ruffians and wake in the morning bedaubed in mire. That would not be well liked by my lady mother nor by my good father, though tales tell he was scamp enough in youth to know the joys of a gutter or two."
The drinking house had rooms to let above it, as did many a tavern then, and as the festival had drawn more than the usual number of visitors, the two were settled in the only remaining room. This was not the least unusual as it was perfectly common for friends to share a bed until they were married, so they had thought nothing of it, and all was peaceful calm as they dove beneath the tattered blankets that served for bedclothes.
"Think you that bedbugs abide with us this night?" Horatio said with a note of disgust.
"And if they do, let them sleep as well since all creatures deserve a bit of simple sleep by very courtesy," Hamlet said with a laugh, rolling to one side. "There is a lump just here in the bed. I do hope the previous tenant did not die there and leave his corse as extra padding for the next."
It sometimes amazed Horatio that Hamlet's sense of humor could so easily make uncomfortable situations into pleasant ones. He sighed from the warmth of the ale and the hour and the long day in the fresh air, or what passed for fresh air in the city, and his thoughts grew bleary around the edges.
"Horatio?" Hamlet had asked in a curious voice. "I have a question for you."
"Then ask it, sire," said Horatio, burrowing a bit deeper into the covers.
"Hast you e'er, I know not how to ask it," Hamlet said, stuttering a bit, and this made Horatio quite intrigued as little ever left his loquacious friend stumbling over words, which were his best playfellows.
"If you know not how to ask it, then you do not know what you wish to ask, and if you know what you would ask, then I would you would ask so I may answer and then join Morpheus," Horatio replied.
"Indeed. Then to the point of it. Hast you yet lain with a maid, or rather, that is to say one who was a maid e'er you laid with her, or perhaps was not a maid before you laid with her but would have ceased to be one had she so been before you encountered her?" he said in a rush.
Horatio paused in the darkness, utterly stunned. "Nay, Hamlet, I have no knowledge of such things as you speak of, and in truth, I find myself not so inclined. And you?"
"Not I. There was a comely lass last summer whom I thought I might have tumbled, but she turned prude upon me and married with a soldier whose beard was fuller than mine," he said sulkily.
"Twould not take much for that, friend, as your beard as yet is but a bristle or two in the canvas of your face even now," Horatio said with a laugh. "You have less upon your chin than some women I have seen, truth be told."
"Like unto the Lady Chortington, who hath that great mole upon her chin which sprouteth out the most repugnant growths of hair as I have ever seen?" Hamlet said, chuckling wickedly.
"True enough at that. If that mole were but a dash larger, she would do well in the side shows of a traveling circus as the bearded lady," Horatio agreed. "But why ask you this?"
"There was a bawd tonight who was passing fair, a pretty thing, and she did seem to choose me out of the press in the general rabble, most like thinking my purse a good asset," he said in the darkness.
"Well, why did you not give her business a boost?" Horatio asked, though he found himself coloring at the thought.
"I found I wanted to not at all," Hamlet said slowly. "Is that not a strange thing?"
"Perhaps not, my lord. She may not have been to your tastes, or perhaps bawds strike you not as what you most desire."
"I found myself appalled at her," he said, his voice seeming to speak to himself almost, "appalled at the very thought of lying with her."
Horatio kept quiet, wondering if he would speak further, and the silence grew longer in the darkness, but he knew the other man was not asleep.
"Is there," Horatio at last said, breaking the quiet, "one who you would lie with if you could?"
Another pause stretched between them, until finally one word was spoken.
"Indeed, who is this paragon of desire that stirreth you when this Helen of Troy, if Troy had been naught but brothels, failed to do so?"
Hamlet's form shifted on the bed, moving a bit further from Horatio, the uneven mattress bunching between them.
"I could not dare tell you, friend," he said softly again. "I am not sure I can tell myself."
"The lady cannot be above your station. You are the prince! What have you to fear?"
"That is not my worry," he said.
"It is no lady, is it, Hamlet."
The statement hung in the air between them, linking them together, and there was a shudder that ran along the length of the mattress paired with a sigh of breath that was resigned.
"No, Horatio. It is no lady who has my fancy."
Horatio's eyes had fallen shut in happiness at this, and with a daring born of wild hope, he moved closer to the form on the opposite side of the bed.
"Hamlet," he said, reaching a hand out to touch the back of the man before him. "Is it me you long for?"
"Hate me not!" he cried, turning to face him. "I shall never bother you, never take an unclean action towards you. You are my friend, and I would never have spoken thus were it not for the drink that has passed my lips nor secrecy of the night air. I beg you, forget what I have said and never bring it to the light again."
"You beg in vain, for I will never forget those dear words," Horatio said. "Sweet, sweet Hamlet. Your thoughts and mine do bend in like ways. There have been moments I have been driven all but mad to see you and not speak what dwelled in my mind, but I knew not you would treat it with anything but repulsion."
"You… you do not hate me?" he said in wonder. "You feel as I do?"
"I do," Horatio breathed. "A thousand times, I do. The sun has never kissed your cheek that I was not joining my lips with his on your skin in imagination, nor the breeze sift through the golden curls of your hair but my fingers followed phantom-wise, nor the chill of winter force you to draw your arms close about yourself but I would that it had been me they drew closer to warm you. Hamlet, I need no ale to make me drunk but the liquor of your sighs. Will you not give me to drink of them this night?"
"Drink your fill and more, good Horatio! My sighs shall fall like the rhythm of the waves of the ocean for you, none but you, for never have I thought to be ever so happy as to know your love and mine are but one thought. Will you not kiss me, friend, and bend these lips to your heart's desire?"
"That I shall," he said, tasting softly of his mouth, the first brief touch enough to elicit a groan from both that called forth a lust so strong it was as though they had been set afire.
Many a sweet hour they had spent in bed that night, making vows luminous with joy and hope, touching and searching out the pleasure of one another over and again until both were sated, falling at last into sleep in a tangle of limbs that bound them together like the braiding of a rope. They arose late that day, blushing perhaps at first with the newness of their close acquaintance, shy in the aftermath of much love-making, but not so shy that they did not let hands and lips wander wither they willed as they dressed, falling out the door of the drinking house in a euphony of laughter, arms around each other in what strangers would assume to be the bosom embrace of friendship.
There had been many and many a time together, more than Horatio could count, when they had become as one again: in the prince's bedchamber, watchful of over-curious servants but luxuriating in the richness of their sheets; at school, the thrill of being caught coursing through their bodies and sweetening their pleasure; on the banks of the deserted river near Elsinore, by the broad light of day, unashamed of their joy and taking leisure in their movements, relishing each touch. But then had come the death of Hamlet's father, the queen's marriage, the ghost, the madness, the slow descent into the spiral from which there was no turning save down to the place where he now stood, surrounded by death and his heart breaking with no salve in the world to heal him, no purpose but to tell his story until death came for him in turn.
He reached forth a trembling hand to touch Hamlet one last time, closing the eyes of his lover, shutting forever the blue that was his soul's desire.