Pairing: Fortinbras/Horatio [past Horatio/Laertes]
Word Count: 4780
Copyright: Title is an excellent piece of music by Bellowhead.
Summary: It has been a long year, Horatio reflects, teeth wine-stained.
Author’s Notes: Set post-play, and written backwards, because I am pretentious like that and everything (if you want, you can just scroll straight to the end and read upwards). Because karaokegal reminded me how much I enjoy writing for Hamlet :D Yay for mad!bastard!Horatio.
27/2/09 - EDITED for a truly shocking number of typos. *tuts at self* I know I didn’t finish this until 2:30 in the morning, but it’s still no excuse.
The sun is shining on the day Horatio saddles his horse and rides away from Elsinore, a year too late by all accounts. The flags flutter in the breeze, and he stops for a moment to look back. The castle stone gleams white in the sunlight looking beautiful and pure and so perfect it’s hard to believe what the walls conceal. Denmark’s king, hiding his cowardice behind ivory and gold; Horatio knows this all too intimately.
He does not ride over the hill to pay final respects to the tomb where Hamlet sleeps beneath cool stone; he doesn’t know what to say to his prince, not any more. Instead, he tethers his horse and walks through the graveyard; recalling a year ago and Yorick and the expression on his lordship’s face; the expression mirrored just a little too closely on the new monarch’s.
Laertes and Ophelia are laid out side by side; Horatio bows his head for guilt, though Ophelia’s accident was her own and Laertes is really more complicated than he’s ever going to think about.
“I don’t think I shall come back again,” he tells the air, the wind that ruffles through his hair, tugging blonde from the black ribbon holding it back. “I don’t think there’s space for me now.”
The lie; and he doesn’t care. He returns to his horse and doesn’t look back at Elsinore as he rides away, golden light encircling him. An omen he assumes; though whether it’s a sign of his fresh freedom or of the kingdom’s, he does not know.
King Fortinbras winds a lock of his black curls around his finger, firelight reflected bleak in his eyes. Horatio looks at him and wonders how he could ever have been afraid of him; how he could ever have stood on the battlements with the guards and murmured broken little stories of Fortinbras’ dark strength. He knows, now, that there is no strength at all. He does not care for his king, he realises. If he ever cared, it was an accident, a misunderstanding.
It has been a long year, Horatio reflects, teeth wine-stained.
“I will not stay any longer,” he says.
Fortinbras considers him, seated on the other side of the table. Perhaps he thinks his position stronger than it is; perhaps he thinks Horatio can be persuaded.
“If you are dissatisfied-” he begins.
Horatio laughs, but does not give an explanation why. It is not something that he will give to Fortinbras; he has given so much already.
“It isn’t that,” he says at last.
His king’s expression flickers, but Horatio has made his choice.
“If there is anything you require…”
“There is nothing you could give me that would induce me to stay,” Horatio says calmly, “Nothing.”
Fortinbras seems to understand at last; understand enough, anyhow. His smile freezes, hardens; if he were not king, Horatio thinks he would shout. But he is king, and he has his dignity, his icy facades that slip so easily into place.
“I see,” he says.
He does not.
“I will leave tomorrow,” Horatio says, because his mind is made up now. Because if he does not leave now then he may not, and the idea of staying here for another withering year is more than he can bear.
“The festival-” Fortinbras begins.
The comparisons to Hamlet still sting, though it is the dull ache of an old war wound, and one that Horatio does not pay much mind to. He cannot, not any longer.
“You will find a new advisor,” Horatio says, standing up, no longer able to stay sitting at the table with the wine and with his king. No. Not his king any longer. “We both know that I was not a good advisor. Not a good companion.”
“No.” Fortinbras’ lips curl. “No, I suppose you were not.”
Horatio does not ask the myriad of questions that have haunted him this last twelvemonth. He thinks it best that they are never answered. He watches the flames in the fireplace dance, and listens to Fortinbras making his decision. He comes to stand beside Horatio, and they stand in a silence that is awkward in a way it never has been before.
He turns; perhaps to voice something that should not ever be said, but Fortinbras turns too and catches his mouth in one last kiss; the king tastes bitter and lost, and it makes Horatio angry, angrier than he’s been in too long. He pulls away first, scraping a smile.
“Until your return,” Fortinbras says, and his voice quakes.
You will not see me again, Horatio thinks, but does not say it aloud.
Horatio sometimes finds himself thinking that Fortinbras and Hamlet should have properly met, become acquainted. Together, he believes that they could truly have been formidable.
Well, they would either have been formidable, or they would have destroyed the world. Or very possibly each other.
Some nights, all the options seem attractive.
Horatio walks down the flagstones, back and forth, and it is the anniversary. He recalls Hamlet, teeth shining with his mad grin, dragging Polonius’ bloody corpse through the halls, leaving trails of slick crimson. Claudius’ anxious face; Gertrude’s thinned lips. It seems a lifetime ago now, but it wasn’t, and Horatio was another man then, of course. Of course.
(He still has the letter folded in his breast; Hamlet’s faded hand, crushed seal: I was kidnapped by pirates, but they were amenable, and I’m coming home, Horatio, home. As though this was a good thing.)
“I was thinking of a Festival,” Fortinbras says, interrupting Horatio’s reminiscing; perhaps it’s really for the best. “To celebrate a year since the coronation.”
Denmark’s clean start; only it’s rotting in a different way, and Horatio thinks perhaps he’s the only one who can see it. Perhaps Hamlet has forever blighted him.
“A good idea, your majesty,” he replies dully.
“I thought so,” Fortinbras says, and seems to be waiting for a response; Horatio does not supply him with one, preferring to stare down at the scrubbed floors and recall the slippery wet trails no one wanted to touch. His prince; oh God, his prince, and perhaps it would have been easier to trail after him into eternity. The memories are not easy, not simple, impossible to bear.
Fortinbras leaves him to it after a while, for he is a king and cannot cave to the whims of anyone. Left alone, Horatio traces Hamlet’s footsteps for a few more yards, and turns sharply at the sound of a mad, familiar laugh.
No one there. But the warning is sharp enough. He recalls the shape on the battlements, the ghost that would not say a word, wonders if Hamlet is still here somehow. There is only one message he could possibly bear, and Horatio does not need to follow him into the scarlet dawn to know it.
Denmark is no longer his home. The only question is how much longer he can linger.
It takes five blows of the axe to take off the young man’s head, and even the executioner looks pale beneath his hood as he clenches his gloved hand in sodden hair and raises it high for the crowd’s approval.
Horatio watches from his seat beside the king, and resolutely does not recall adding his signature to the death warrant. This will not be his fault; it will not.
“I take no pleasure in this,” Fortinbras says later, when they are alone. “But it is sadly necessary.”
Horatio knows him too well to believe him, but doesn’t mention it. He’s finding silence is a far simpler method of communication than talking could ever be.
“I know what you are thinking,” Fortinbras tells him, expression flat and curiously unreadable. “And yes: I do tell myself certain things so that I can sleep at night. I imagine you do the same.” His smile curls.
Horatio grits his teeth; he hates him. Only he doesn’t, and that is only the tip of the problem.
Fortinbras’ eyes say this was your fault too, and when Horatio kisses him it’s sharp and angry and I’ll never forgive you for this, and Fortinbras’ fingers digging into his hips feel like a little too much damnation.
His fingers tangled in shirt strings, he thinks: never again.
It isn’t even a rebellion; that is the worst part. Just a boy, a young man who is too young and too pale and far too certain, who dares to shout something at Fortinbras’ carriage; false king or words to that effect. He’s seized by the guards immediately, of course, dragged away to the filthy dungeons where there really is no light.
Fortinbras talks to his council for a long time, but it is Horatio he seeks out later. They sit in his chambers and say nothing for the longest time.
“Perhaps it is not important after all,” Fortinbras says at last.
Horatio grimaces, lips skidding across his teeth. He stood beside Hamlet, who was that young foolish man they have in the dungeons in altogether too many ways, and he knows how these things begin. It begins with spit and false king, and ends in duels with poison and blood.
“Sire,” he says, “You cannot let this go. You cannot appear weak.”
“I thought I would appear benevolent,” Fortinbras suggests.
He’s too young too; they both are. Unfit to rule, and horrifically scared, and Horatio looks away and says:
“You need to prove that the throne is yours and that no one will pry your hands from it.”
Hamlet would never forgive him for this; but Hamlet is dead and Horatio did not throw out an arm to stop him from his path. He was naïve then; he is not naïve any more.
“I see,” Fortinbras says slowly.
Horatio wishes he could remember how he got here.
“I will talk to my councillors again,” Fortinbras murmurs at last.
Horatio thinks what have I done, but all he does is nod. Times are difficult. Things are complicated. Hamlet lies in the grave Horatio never visits. He has learned the wrong things.
There are maps across the tables, scattered over the floor; Fortinbras’ expression is drawn, fingers ink-stained. He looks like a child; young and running scared.
“I believe, if I am not careful, I could be at war with my uncle,” Fortinbras says.
Horatio thinks: I have had this conversation before.
“You need a queen,” Horatio asserts.
(He is quite drunk; there was a feast for no reason, for they are gluttonous bastards. Horatio has his own manservant now, who looks nervous but refills his cup with steady hands. He looks a little like Laertes from certain angles; at times Horatio wants to grab him and kiss him to see what he does. Laertes bit his mouth open and raked his nails down Horatio’s back as he broke open beneath him, but Horatio does not think his manservant will do the same.)
Fortinbras laughs for a while, cool and low. “I do not have my brother’s wife to claim,” he responds.
“There are other ways of meeting women,” Horatio points out. His head is thick, mouth tasting sour from too much wine. “You need an heir.”
“I have time,” Fortinbras tells him, soft and lofty.
Just because he doesn’t have a nephew who wishes to kill him doesn’t mean that he will be safe.
“You need to make your throne certain,” Horatio tells him. “You have not been king a year yet; you need to stamp out any thoughts of rebellion. Any questions of validity.”
He isn’t sure where he knows all this from; Old Hamlet, he assumes.
Fortinbras is looking thoughtfully at him. His mouth tastes of wine too, and when he has Horatio beneath him he breathes:
“You could be my queen.”
Horatio is uncertain whether to laugh or to punch him; he comes instead, some form of compromise.
“I meant what I said,” he repeats when Fortinbras is asleep and Horatio is left to decide whether he wants to be found here by the king’s manservant in the morning (again) or not. Fortinbras makes no sound. He sighs. “I do not know what I am doing either. I don’t know why you have not noticed yet.”
Horatio reflects that his manservant might be a safer bet, when you get right down to it. He dresses, trails barefoot through the quiet castle. He walked these halls with Hamlet once; not debauched, just tired. How times have changed.
Fortinbras is burning a letter in the fire; several pages long, and each one is dropped disdainfully to the flames. Horatio does not ask.
“My uncle,” Fortinbras mutters. “He sends me advice.”
Horatio considers telling him that perhaps he could try taking it; neither of them are exactly experienced at running a country, they’re doing this mainly through fear and instinct. He’s growing weary already, wishing he had made another decision, but he knows if he was given the chance again he’d still make the same mistake.
Horatio is good at making mistakes.
“I think he wants Denmark for his own,” Fortinbras says. “I think he wishes me dead; he has never been a true uncle.”
Half an hour later, when the letter has burnt and Fortinbras is drunkenly fumbling Horatio’s shirt from his shoulders, he murmurs something broken and tired; words about the space and quiet of beyond the grave.
Tonight has been too much.
“You remind me of Prince Hamlet at times,” Horatio mumbles.
Fortinbras’ smile is sharp, disarming. “Thank you.”
Horatio considers telling him that it really is not a compliment, before deciding that would be cruel.
Some nights, drunk, Horatio worries that, somehow, he planned this.
There are days when he finds he’s still writing inane letters to Laertes; twining locks of his blonde hair around his fingers and scribbling I am somehow fucking the king; I’ve achieved what your father always wanted but never got before recalling that Laertes does not live any more and therefore there is no point in antagonising him.
Horatio is beginning to suspect that Denmark is not really much better off for having Fortinbras as its leader; Claudius was corrupt and cruel and a murderer, but he did know what he was doing. Old Hamlet chose to drag them all into war after war for bright glory; but at least he made a decision. Horatio thinks that Fortinbras is merely attempting to keep Denmark from drowning, and it’s not really good enough.
Fortinbras doesn’t even taste like hope any more; perhaps he is starting to realise how hopeless this is all becoming. How, a few scant months after becoming monarch, he has no chance of true greatness. They are both boys, men too young to know what to do, how to fix all this. The best they can hope is that no one invades and tries to take the throne by force; Horatio thinks he would just hand the crown over and tell the usurper to have better luck.
Truthfully, Denmark is still corrupt; Horatio really fucking hopes that the corruption, the rotten core, is not related to him.
“We can do this,” Fortinbras promises against his shoulder one stickily hot night.
Horatio doesn’t believe him any more; his voice has lost its shine.
“We can, sire,” he agrees.
He will not let this be his fault.
Horatio has no doubt that Hamlet would not really have been a good king; oh, he had the honour and the faith but not the temperament. Hamlet had a tendency to wring out every inch of possibility from an idea; to think something through until it no longer resembled what it started out as. An admirable quality in many ways, but not quite the correct mindset of a king.
He’s beginning to realise that King Fortinbras does not really think things through at all; he merely gives the impression that he does.
Horatio has somehow ended up with such complete opposites, though he does not know how his luck has turned so bad. He’s sure he’s done nothing to deserve it.
(Nothing he will ever confess to, anyway.)
Horatio does not know if half the kingdom knows that he sometimes shares their king’s bed or not; he does not much care either way. Perhaps he should mind; people did not really have an opinion when he was merely the prince’s companion who sometimes disappeared for inappropriate lengths of time with the councillor’s son; he and Laertes fucked in summer wheatfields and in each other’s beds and no one blinked. But Fortinbras is decidedly not Laertes, and if this became known…
Things have not changed; they do not exchange looks across banquet halls, they do not touch in public. They are not unsubtle like one noble and his servant, who do not seem to understand discretion at all; who have secret smiles for each other that the entire court know about. Fortinbras is pretending to turn a blind eye, very possibly out of fear for himself; he’s a weak man, Horatio is slowly learning.
He submits, as he must, because he is not the king and Fortinbras so delights in being master. Horatio broke Laertes in a matter of weeks; but he obediently allows himself to be broken, learns the shape of Fortinbras’ mouth, learns intimacy because he has lost far too many things recently and he needs something.
Hamlet would never have let him do this; Horatio still is not entirely sure whether he wanted it or not, and in any case the time has passed for that to be feasible. But he has a king now; a king who wants him, and the feeling is unusual and sharp.
Finally, Horatio believes he is learning about power.
“I am king,” Fortinbras sighs one night, palm pressed to the window.
“Astute of you, sire,” Horatio responds, just the right side of sarcastic. He doesn’t know how he feels about Fortinbras, really; he is still trying to get the measure of the man. Hamlet was confused, had hidden depths of lost, but he was simple, for all that he tried to be complex. Fortinbras is complicated in other ways; and Horatio has not known him nearly long enough.
Fortinbras’ smile is soft, smooth, fond. One day, his uncle will die and he’ll rule too much land; Horatio cannot work out what sort of a ruler he will be. He has not asserted himself on Denmark yet; he is more holding his place rather than trying to turn a page. It is not a bad way to rule; but it is not memorable.
Horatio has no idea what kind of a man he is serving. It disconcerts him more than he will admit.
“I can have anything I wish,” Fortinbras says. “I say what I want, and it is delivered to me.”
Unless you ask your uncle for it, Horatio thinks, but does not say. He merely nods, and tries to work out exactly what is happening here.
“I can take what I want,” Fortinbras says, voice sharp and savage and unlike any other tone Horatio has heard from him before. He’s unpredictable.
“You can,” Horatio agrees. He stands beside his king, gazing out over the dark courtyard; he thinks of the guards stood in the cold on the walls, remembers standing with them a lifetime ago. He is caught in his reminiscing and so initially misses the way Fortinbras is looking at him. When he has finally deciphered the look in Fortinbras’ dark eyes, he finally understands what has been happening.
He manages to keep his mouth shut.
“There are some things I do not wish to take,” Fortinbras murmurs, “There are some things I wish to be given.”
It seems strange, to catch the king in such a position of vulnerability. Horatio thinks fleetingly of Laertes beneath his layers of earth; of Hamlet, who would never understand the way Horatio looked at him.
“Then it is given,” he says, and waits for Fortinbras to move.
Horatio does not know how to be an advisor to a king; he makes it up as he goes along, and for some unknown reason, it seems to work.
King Fortinbras watches him a little too much for comfort; dark eyes thoughtful. Horatio is uncertain, though endeavours not to show it; he does his best to relay the traditions of Elsinore, to be deferential, to be thoughtful. He forgets to think of escape as the first few weeks slip past; there’s new respect in people’s eyes, though the servants’ eyes narrow. They think he is clambering his way up in the world; he climbed over Prince Hamlet and now he has sunk his teeth into their new king.
Horatio lets them think what they wish to think; he’s the one sleeping on silken sheets with his words pressed to the king’s ear.
They pass no new laws; they do not try to turn the kingdom upside down; they do not start wars with their neighbours. Fortinbras talks to his councillors at length; the councillors have seen three new kings in the space of a year, and they are practiced at keeping the kingdom running. Fortinbras makes pretty speeches, rides out in his carriage and waves at his people, listens graciously to the complaints of courtiers. At night, he returns to his chambers, and admits shreds of insecurity to Horatio. If he truly wished, Horatio could destroy the new king in a matter of minutes; but he does not. He is not that man, though from time to time he almost wishes he were.
The sunlight is weak through the windows when Horatio goes to the king’s private chambers; he has been summoned, though they have barely spoken more than a few sentences to each other. He doesn’t know what King Fortinbras thinks he will be able to do; but he will not refuse a command from royalty. Even now, that seems to have been ingrained within him.
“Your majesty,” he says, with the best bow he can summon up. Hamlet used to laugh at him when he bowed; elbow him until he stumbled. You make a greeting such a pageant, he’d say, and Horatio would reply: it is only your right, which would make Hamlet laugh harder. Laertes, when he bowed, had an excessive flourish of reverence learned from his father, which was fitting too.
They are alone, which is strange; Horatio is used to the presence of other subjects, of bowing servants, of the stiff elegance of the throne room. None of that now; just himself, and his king, pale sunlight glinting from his crown. Horatio wonders if he has ever taken it off. If he sleeps with his head bound in gold.
“I have many councillors,” Fortinbras tells him, “But I should like a… more personal advisor. I understand you were friends with Prince Hamlet for many years. You know the way this court works.”
Horatio wants to say my clothes are packed, I wish to return to Wittenburg, but instead he smiles.
“It would be an honour, your majesty.”
In his mind, Laertes looks pleased. Hamlet just looks wan and mad; Horatio can’t remember how to recall him as anything but.
Horatio doesn’t say: I will not be good at it, your majesty, because he already has some experience in telling royalty what they wish to hear.
The coronation feasts go on for almost a week; held so soon after the funerals. Horatio remembers Hamlet’s complaint that his father’s death was almost overshadowed by his mother’s remarriage; but he was broken even then. Horatio ignored it and should not have done, but it is too late for that now. He celebrates as best he can, clothes packed into an oak chest. He will leave, somehow. There is nothing to remain for.
Few people attend Laertes’ funeral; he would not even have the honour of his own private burial if Hamlet hadn’t forgiven him so publicly. Most people are blaming Laertes for Hamlet’s death, and though Horatio knows himself biased he also knows that less blame is falling on Claudius than really should. Laertes, beautiful, dark eyed, raven haired Laertes, is the one people are despising.
Horatio barely knew him, and he knows this, but bruised his mouth and broke his heart and wrote him nonsensical letters and he never told a soul, not even Hamlet who knew everything there was to know about him, and he thinks it’s really enough. So he says prayers for misguided and lost Laertes, and bows his head for Hamlet’s funeral with a gesture that’s as guilty as it is sorrowful.
“I suppose I could have stopped you,” he says to thin air in his chamber that night. “I suppose I could have done.”
Hamlet was lost; Horatio doesn’t know if he could have prevented the end or not. He thinks perhaps he was too passive; he thinks perhaps there was nothing he could have done.
Fortinbras smiles with pearly white teeth when he receives the crown, and his speech is deferential and loving and certain and he looks like a king they can all be proud of. Horatio attends the feast that night; an orgy of speeches, men pleasuring themselves with hyperbole, and loses count of how many times Fortinbras’ eyes flicker towards him after twenty.
He is sent for at first light; Horatio stumbles to the throne room, muzzy-headed from lack of sleep and surplus of wine, though he has remembered to put on clean clothes and run his fingers through his hair.
Fortinbras looks as though he hasn’t really slept either. Horatio still has trouble believing him real; so many stories have been told that it seems unlikely that Fortinbras is sat on the throne that until yesterday King Claudius kept warm. The thing they were all so afraid of; and now everyone is merely relieved.
“I am given to understand that you were a friend of Prince Hamlet,” Fortinbras says, when Horatio has managed a broken bow.
“I was, your majesty,” Horatio says; not crowned yet, but it pays to be deferential. Fortinbras is not Hamlet, he must remember.
He should return to Wittenburg, he thinks; he should pack up his clothes and leave this place. There is nothing left for him here, after all.
Fortinbras considers him, expression impassive, for a long time. Horatio wonders how he must look; eyes bruised, clothes rumpled, blonde hair wild in all directions. He must look out of place; an outsider here, who did not weep for the fallen.
“Would you stay until the coronation?” Fortinbras asks him; sudden and a little informal and Horatio is sure he has formed the intention to go.
“Of course, your majesty,” he replies, and bows.
There is blood on the floor; blood and poison and once upon a time there were rather too many bodies. Not now of course; the royal family have been carried away to be smoothed over with silk sheets and weeping embalmers until their tombs are ready, and poor, lost Laertes was dragged away in rather the same way as his father, leaving thick swathes of blackish blood in his wake.
Horatio is honestly not sure what to say, or what to do with himself. He knew things were getting closer to the edge, of course; closer and sharper and darker and harder, but he didn’t see this coming. No one could have done.
Fortinbras looks tired, speaking pretty words to the frightened population; so your king turned out to be a murderer and your prince killed… well, rather a lot of people before perishing himself, but I promise it will all turn out all right! He is so unlike Hamlet; so strong, so certain. Horatio wants to believe in him, largely because he has nothing to believe in now.
Denmark has rotted, and perhaps purity of a sort can be uncovered now. Perhaps Fortinbras will be able to rip them out of this pit they’ve fallen into; perhaps this is a new start that they all need.
People flood the streets, the halls, to hold candles and whisper prayers all night for those who have been lost. Horatio hides in his chambers with too much wine, recalls Hamlet’s shaking hands and shattered words, the arch of Laertes’ back in moments that they should not have stolen. He drinks until the world wavers at the edges, until the ache is numbed just a little.
“God save the fucking king,” he mutters when the bells toll for midnight, wine spilt down his tunic; and promises himself he’ll leave Denmark when he awakes.