Duty & Dignity Chapter 5
Mr. Hornblower could tell he had been unconscious for at least a week due to the growth of his facial hair. He seemed to remember being hit by a cannonball and then he blacked out completely until he woke up, always thinking he was on the deck of the "Lydia". Sick berth attendants kept feeding him laudanum whenever he awoke, scared to death he would enter shock when he noticed the absence of his legs.
Standing above him was a man he knew from descriptions in letters, standing tall, yet slightly worried. Every time he awoke and saw the man he always struggled for a reason to postpone telling him, he no longer had any.
Before he could procrastinate further he told the man the reason he was asked here.
"You are Archibald, Katherine's husband. Correct?"
"Yes, and you are Mr. Hornblower. How did you know my wife?" Archie asked, a rather harsh tone in his voice.
"I was her previous husband Mr. Kennedy, and Edward's biological father."
Archie seemed to pale at the news Mr. Hornblower had presented him with. Though trying hard to keep his composure. This explained the similarities in Horatio and Edward. It did not explain all but he had a growing sense of dread that Mr. Hornblower would tell him all. With this Katherine's death would be fresh in his mind for days to come as it always did.
"I don't understand."
"When I was in France I was captured, tortured for information. It was the worst two years of my life, living in a confined cell, my best friend being the occasional fly. Living without Katherine, and our child to come. Whipped every day for the fact that I wouldn't give them information of Nelson's personal logs or because I didn't know when they were next planning to dock in Bonaparte's area of reign."
"That must have been hard Horatio but I still to not understand why you wouldn't have been with Katherine after that. Can you please continue?" Archie asked.
" Yes, I will, please be patient. I was there for two years, during the third month of my captivity I received news that Katherine had birthed Edward, such a handsome boy I was told. I never wished more in my life to be able to fly and escape the thugs who kept me from my family, to simply see a picture of my baby boy. The eighth month I was there I tried to escape, to make it home, they caught me and nearly killed me. People saw the attempt and the gunshots; the news published my false death on their accounts. Mr. Kennedy, by the time I had escaped and recovered, by the time I got home four years after I had left she had already married you. Katherine was deeply in love more than she had ever been with me. I could not take that away from her Archie."
"Did she know you were alive?"
"I'm sure she found out eventually, but I could not tell her, I didn't want to put her into an impossible situation. Trust me, I wanted to take her back into my arms, wanted to hold my little Edward, but I could never do that. For her sake I couldn't do that.
I did keep track of Edward, your neighbors know I'm alive and send me letters with how he is doing, I couldn't lose two people, and in a sense now I at least have one."
Tears shown in Horatio's eyes and Archie walked over to his bedside while he leaned over and cried upon his shoulder. Every eye in sick berth was on them but neither of the men cared. Horatio's tears slowly stained their way through Archie's topcoat but he knew that he could not afford to give up the comfort that came with being able to talk about Katherine. Though he had a rising temper with his neighbors about them raising Edward to two fathers he knew it had been the right thing to do, he could not blame them.
Slowly Mr. Hornblower stopped shuddering and fell asleep on Archie's shoulder. He slowly put the sleeping form on the sick berth cot and retreated to his office. Looking back at Horatio he was reminded of Edward sleeping, always one leg…or stump in this case…poking out of the covers. It was a day like this when he wished to God he could see more of himself in his son.
When Archie reached his office he pulled off his boots and neck stock and lay upon his cot and stared off into nowhere. Not even thinking he just lay there with a growing sense of sadness overcoming him. A thought pulled him back to the land of the living and he started to weep when he realized that Edward would never have a proper father. He wept as he never had before, looking intently at a picture of Katherine and Edward. He could not fail Katherine again, not with something as important as his own son.
Four Months Later
"Are you sure about this Archie?"
"Horatio, I have never been surer about anything in my life. I can't raise him on my own; living with the neighbors is not a life I want him to live. Horatio, together we can do this, and you deserve this happiness."
Horatio knew he was right, but he still doubted.
Walking down a cobblestone street with two wooden legs was a hard task, but thirty minutes, forty curses, and five falls later they made it to Archie's house. Walking inside felt like a privilege to Horatio as Archie left to collect Edward from the neighbors.
A few minutes later Archie reappeared with a small boy in tow. Horatio felt a swell of pride rise in him as well as happiness unimaginable. It felt like forever until Edward was close enough to shake his hand, he shook it firmly like a man. Already making his father proud.
"Edward I'd like you to meet someone." Archie led on.
"This is Horatio, your biological father. I know it's confusing, but we are both going to raise you from now on, we're not going to leave you again for anything. "
Edward's face lit up once Archie said he was not leaving; he was not the only one smiling. Though he probably did not understand what Horatio was he was happy about him being here. The two men and boy smiled for what felt like forever, before finally Edward reached out and hugged both his fathers.
Archie stared at Katherine's picture that night, knowing that Horatio and himself would never let Edward down. Nor would they ever forget Katherine, and the battle of the "Marie" which led them to this moment. Their lives had changed inexplicably, in an instance, an instance never forgotten.
Author's Note: Well loyal viewers, the story is finally over. All is well in the world of Hornblower. If you have read this since the beginning then thank you for dealing with my short chapters and long waiting periods between posting. I now hand Hornblower over to someone who can make use of the characters in new and interesting ways. Please do review though, I would like to know for future stories what you liked and disliked, so please press the inviting blue button below. Thanks. :)