Deep in the heart of night, a lone rider bent over the body of his horse, speeding along the winding road towards Elsinore Castle. The wind whipped his hair into a frenzy and bit at the gaps in his clothes, but he did not slow to draw his cloak tighter around his shoulders. He had been riding for days and nights almost without rest, and was determined to reach his destination before dawn. He was determined, also, to ignore the eerie howling of the wind over the desolate plain, heralding the thunderstorm that had been brewing on the horizon since he had first crossed the border. There had once been rich fields growing along this road, green grass and golden wheat. Now there was only dirt, and the dust kicked up by the hooves of his horse.
He was stopped at the castle gate, as he had expected to be. What he had not expected was the roughness with which the guards treated him, practically pulling him from his horse and shouting their demands. "Who are you? What is your business here?" He did his best to explain, but I'm a friend of the Prince's was an unlikely excuse at the best of times, and the night was dark and cold and the guards ill-tempered. He was, in fact, moments from being thrown out or into jail when they were all stopped by a voice.
"Stop," said Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. "I know this man. He speaks the truth, and he is not to be harmed."
"He claims to be an acquaintance of yours, my lord," one of the guards said. "Says he came all the way from Germany."
"An acquaintance." Hamlet hummed, a smirk about his mouth. "Indeed. He has travelled a long way and is no doubt eager to rest. Francisco, see that his mount is stabled and cared for. Barnardo, take his belongings to the east wing."
"The gate, my lord –"
"I will guard the gate. Go."
"As my lord commands." The guards moved off. Hamlet watched them go, the smirk gone from his face.
The traveller knelt before his Prince. "My lord Hamlet."
"Be welcome to Elsinore, friend of Denmark," the Prince replied formally. Then he added, in quite a different tone, "Oh, my dear Horatio. Rise."
Horatio stood, and Hamlet embraced him – as a friend, as a brother, as one whom he loved. Holding tight to the Prince's mourning clothes, feeling Hamlet's face buried in his shoulder, Horatio said, "My lord. I am so, so sorry. I came as soon as I heard."
Hamlet released him with a shake of his head. "The time for apologies is long since past, Horatio. You are here, and that is all that counts." A sudden, twisted smile sprang to his face, as far from sincere as the joyous tone in which he then spoke. "Besides, have you not heard? We are in a time of celebration. My mother has been wed to my uncle. Claudius now reigns as King of Denmark."
Horatio could simply stare, shocked beyond words. "S-surely not, my lord," he stammered at length. "It has been scarcely two months..."
"Six weeks," Hamlet corrected him, in a tone of sorrow and anger and bitterness and hurt. "Six weeks since my mother's beloved husband died, and what better way to show her undying love for him than by marrying his brother? Fear not, Horatio; Claudius will make a wonderful king, for he is everything my father was not – a deceitful, cunning, treacherous son of a –"
"You speak treason, my lord," Horatio reminded him softly.
"Treason? Pah." Hamlet spat to the side. "I would shout it from the highest towers of the castle if it would return my father from his grave. I remain heir yet; Claudius cannot touch me, and as for my mother..." He shook his head violently, turning away. "Walk with me."
"My lord, it is almost dawn," Horatio replied, though he followed, as he always did. "Why are you awake at such an hour?"
"It has become a habit of mine," Hamlet answered. "I lie awake otherwise, or am troubled by nightmares until the morning. I dream of my father, Horatio. He is in my thoughts every waking moment and has come to invade my sleeping ones, as well." He stopped suddenly, reaching out to grip Horatio's arm. "I miss him," the Prince of Denmark whispered, gritting his teeth against the tears.
"As you should, my lord," Horatio whispered. His other hand moved to cover Hamlet's with a gentle, soothing pressure. "He was a good king and a good man."
"He's gone," Hamlet choked out. "Gone, Horatio. There nothing good about that."
"No, my lord," Horatio replied quietly.
"Enough with the 'my lord'!" Hamlet snapped, rounding suddenly on his friend. The sudden change in his mood was unsettling, but Horatio did not flinch away. "Is that all I am to you?" Hamlet demanded. "Truly?"
"I am whatever you want me to be, my lord."
Hamlet shook his head violently, tears in his eyes. "No," he whispered. "No, Horatio. I don't want another simpering courtier come to pay his condolences. I want you, and all that we shared at Wittenberg, though all may curse me as a heretic and a fool." He took a step forward until they were almost nose to nose. "If you are not here to give me that, I want you out by the dawn, for I could not bear to see you in court and not be allowed to touch you."
Horatio took hold of Hamlet's hands, pressing them together in the small space that separated their bodies. He kissed the tips of Hamlet's fingers, then looked shyly into the other man's face. "I will be everything you want me to be, my lord. Hamlet."
"Be mine," the Prince whispered, leaning into his kiss.