Dark night, dark thoughts. Horatio paced, up and down, over and over, pausing every turn to look over towards where Hamlet and the Ghost had disappeared around a corner, lost to them. He tried not to think about what would happen if the Prince never returned. He had tried his best, had tried to talk Hamlet out of it, had grabbed his arm in an attempt to keep him from being led away by the mysterious Ghost whose motives were unknown to all of them... but the Prince had, unsurprisingly, not listened to Horatio, and had followed the spirit that looked so unnervingly like his late father.
"We have to go after him," Horatio said at last, stopping in his pacing beside Marcellus. "He's been gone for too long. Something could have happened."
Marcellus nodded and the two set off towards where Hamlet and the Ghost had gone. As they rounded the corner, Horatio felt his heart pounding against his chest, and the chill that ran down his back was from more than just the cold. He saw Hamlet kneeling on the stones, could pick out even from this distance the tears coursing down his face. The Ghost was nowhere in sight.
"My lord?" Marcellus called, hesitating.
Hamlet flinched at the sound but stood, turning away to wipe his eyes before he faced his friends with an insincerely joyous expression. "My friends!" he replied, raising his arms in welcome towards them.
"What news, my lord?" Horatio asked.
"Oh, wonderful news. Truly wonderful." Hamlet's eyes were too bright, his smile forced. Horatio recognised the mask that Hamlet put on every time he was hurt. He had not worn it in the days before his father's murder, but it was seen too often now.
"Then tell it, my lord," Marcellus said eagerly.
Hamlet instantly pulled up short, the mask vanishing to be replaced by an expression of utter fear. "I dare not! You would reveal it."
"My lord, we would never," replied Marcellus sincerely. Horatio echoed this, fighting the urge to go to Hamlet and hold him until the fear disappeared from his face.
"Swear it," Hamlet commanded, drawing his sword. Now his expression was terribly, terribly grave. "Swear by my sword that you will make no mention of what you have seen tonight."
"We would never," Horatio said again.
"By the sword!" Hamlet took two steps towards them, almost at a run, and Horatio had to consciously avoid pulling back in fear. This was Hamlet, he reminded himself. If he was acting a little strangely, he could hardly be blamed for it; he had just seen a spirit with the exact likeness of his dead father. He would never harm me, or anyone.
"Swear," thundered an unknown voice, and this time Horatio did flinch. It was, he knew, the voice of the Ghost, though the spirit itself was nowhere to be seen. Hamlet looked up to the sky and laughed.
"There, you see? My father wills it so, and my father was the truest king to ever rule this twisted, festering land." He was breathing hard, and there was a glint to his eye that made Horatio feel sick. "Come, gentlemen. Put your hands upon my sword, and swear never to speak of all that you have seen and heard tonight."
"Swear," boomed the terrible voice once more.
"My thanks, friends." Hamlet's voice had lost its edge. As he sheathed his blade, all the strength and the passion seemed to drain from him; he trembled and staggered, almost falling to the cold stones. Horatio started forward and Hamlet grabbed his arm like a vice. "It is late," the Prince murmured, "and I have seen too much tonight. Horatio, escort me to my chambers."
"And I, my lord?" Marcellus asked, starting forward.
"No," Hamlet said. "Remain here on guard, Marcellus, until your replacement comes to take the watch." He stood up straight, though there was a thin line of sweat running from his hairline to his jaw. "I thank you, though, for your oath, and for reporting the appearance of my father to me. Without you, I may never have spoken to him." He nodded to Marcellus, who bowed in response, and allowed Horatio to lead him away.
"Was it very bad, my lord?" Horatio asked softly as they walked.
Hamlet could only shake his head. Horatio, looking at him, saw the tears that were once more flowing from his eyes. Horatio felt his heart clench and stopped in the shadows where two walls met to take the Prince in his arms, and let Hamlet cry himself out on his shoulder. It took a long time. Hamlet was a proud man, but he was bone-weary and sick at heart, and his father was dead. He did not hold back. With each shuddering sob, Horatio had to blink back tears of his own. In all the years he had known Hamlet, he had never seen him as distraught as this.
At last Hamlet pulled back and dragged his sleeve across his eyes. "My apologies, Horatio," he whispered. "I am not weak, merely... tired."
"I understand," Horatio answered quietly.
"Oh, Horatio." Hamlet's voice broke on his name. "Things are worse than you could ever imagine."
He told. As they walked slowly through the night back to the castle proper, through its twisting staircases and shadowed hallways, avoiding the guards and the men on watch with ease, Hamlet told Horatio everything about his conversation with the Ghost – its identity as his father's spirit, Claudius' terrible plot, and the oath that Hamlet's father had made him swear. Horatio felt his Prince trembling as he spoke, but his voice held only exhaustion. There would be time, Horatio knew, for rage and then for grief, but for now, Hamlet was simply too tired.
They had reached the Prince's chambers. There were no guards nearby and they slipped into his bedroom with ease. Horatio did his best to ignore the little thrill of excitement and fear; they had never done this before. Hamlet's room was lavishly decorated, but Horatio knew that most of it had been his mother's design. Only the stack of books on the long table spoke of the Hamlet that Horatio knew.
"Stay tonight," Hamlet said, gripping Horatio's hands with a sudden intensity that made the other man shiver.
"I dare not, my lord," he replied automatically, pushing aside how very much he wanted to. "If I am discovered... Your uncle..."
"The pox take my uncle, and the crows peck out his eyes," Hamlet hissed viciously. "I want you, Horatio, and there is not an uncle nor a king in all of the world that will stop me. Do you understand? I want you now." This time his kiss was bruising and fierce, but Horatio, who knew him so well, could tell that it was an act, a front, an attempt to push away the feelings and the memories of all that Hamlet had heard tonight, and he did not complain. Nor did he resist when Hamlet unclasped his cloak and let it fall to the floor, to be swiftly followed by the rest of their clothes. He made no argument when the Prince backed him up to the bed and pinned him to the sheets, arms and legs trapping him as though in a cage, mouth descending to kiss and lick and bite at his neck. His small gasps and cries that punctuated their lovemaking only ever signified encouragement, appreciation, gratitude. Yes, touch me there. No, it doesn't hurt. Take all that you need and more.