Peter/Rock

The Nature of Things in Eternity

If I think about it again

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Fic: Tempted Toward The Flood
Peter/Rock
lizzie_marie_23
Fandom: Hamlet
Characters/Pairings: Horatio/Hamlet, Hamlet/Ophelia (implied), Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern
Word Count: 4479
Rating: PG-13 for mild swearing
Summary: Everything Horatio ever did was for Hamlet, even the things that made it worse.
Notes: Written for a prompt from gehayi on the Big Gay Hamlet Ficathon. Title from Act I, Scene Four.

Horatio knew better than anyone how much his friend deserved the crown. Hamlet was wise and funny and wonderful, and best of all he cared about even the poorest of commoners. Hamlet’s father, on the other hand, was stern and grim and sent people off to a war they had no chance of winning and no hope of returning from. Denmark would be a better home if Hamlet only became king, and the next time Horatio was on break from Wittenberg, he bought the materials he needed to make that happen. The poison was thick and disgusting as he poured it onto the porches of the king’s ear, but he was satisfied with a job well done. Soon Hamlet would be dead and Hamlet would inherit the throne.

He didn’t count on the brother of the king taking the queen and the throne and taking control of the state. All this happened while he traveled back to the University, so it was some time before he found out. In the meantime, he embraced his excellent good friends and lied about the news of their home. The news of the coronation and wedding arrived at university a week and a half after Horatio, so they packed up and headed to Elsinore again.

This was wrong, so wrong. Claudius was incompetent and could only lead the Danskers to ruin. “You should be king,” he insisted for the tenth time “That terrible man stole your rightful place out from under you. Fight for your right to rule!”

“And what if I don’t want to rule?” Hamlet rounded on his friend and Horatio shut up. “My father’s dead and you think I want to become king? Claudius can keep his damn throne for all I care.”

“Sorry,” he answered quickly, and opened his arms so Hamlet could sob on his chest. He hadn’t realized how much the old king had meant until now, but now that he did understand it was his job to make everything better.

“I just want to see my daddy again.” Hamlet was barely coherent at this point and was getting his shirt all wet with tears, but Horatio would never let him go until Hamlet seemed to be doing better. Well, if Hamlet wanted to see his father, he just had to make sure that happened.

***
 
“Yeah, I think I’ve got what you’re looking for,” muttered the apothecary as he searched through his drawers, “Aha!” He held up an envelope with green powder inside. “Just add water and you’ll have a dead ringer for the king that’s dead. If you want him to speak, you can write its motivations on this special purple paper, burn it, and mix the ashes with the powder.”

“That sounds perfect,” he answered immediately. “How much do you want for it?”

“I am contractually obligated to warn you that when you mess with magic beyond your ken, you’re likely to get some unexpected results. The spirits do not like to be used and chances are it will end in tears.”

“Nevertheless, this was my fault and it’s up to me to set it right.”

***

“My father,” said Hamlet, “Methinks I see my father” and Horatio wondered if he already knew who was responsible for the king’s death.

“Where?” he asked, beginning to panic. If the real ghost appeared, Hamlet would never trust him again, but Horatio needed his trust so he could begin to set it right.

“In my mind’s eye.” Hamlet said the words very slowly to make sure he understood them “Horatio, are you okay?” he asked, and his heart overflowed with love for this man who cared for him unquestioningly, even in the midst of his own darkness.

The time had come. If he didn’t tell Hamlet now, he’d never get up the courage again. “I think you could see your father again tonight if you wanted to,” he offered. The look of gratitude Hamlet gave him in return nearly broke his heart.

***

“No my lord! What if it tempt you toward the flood?” What if it tells you the truth about its death, he thought. What if it takes you away from me?

For a moment Hamlet almost looked convinced, but – “No, I have no choice but to follow him. He may be a demon, but he’s still my father, so I will stay loyal to him.”

Horatio grabbed his friend’s hand and stared right into his eyes, trying to convey how much he loved him. He saw that the prince was serious about this, so he gave a tiny nod and let him go. Whatever happened now, he had brought it on himself and he had to see it through. “Heaven will direct it,” he said quietly, but Marcellus thought that utter nonsense and dragged him along to keep their prince safe.

***

“Swear to me that you’ll never tell anyone what you’ve seen this night,” he ordered, and Horatio breathed a sigh of relief. He trusted him enough to ask him to swear; he hadn’t ordered him killed on the spot. It seemed he suspected nothing, so they could remain friends.

“I’d swear anything to you,” he answered, but he doubted Hamlet understood how much he meant by that. “You have my word that none shall know.”

Hamlet’s frantic features softened somewhat and in that moment his face was so beautiful it was all Horatio could do to keep from kissing him. “Thank you,” he said, but went on, “Nay, that’s not enough. Quite right, old mole. Swear by my sword that if I put on mad antics you will give no hints as to why.” Neither of them responded, so he repeated, “Swear it!”

When he heard that, Horatio wondered if these wild and whirling words were the fault of the ghost he had created. He put his hand on the hilt uneasily. When Horatio made a promise, he kept it. He’d tell no one about the madness, but he’d also do his best to help Hamlet through it.

***

“Horatio, can I speak to you for a moment?” Claudius beckoned to him from behind a curtain. Horatio didn’t like the king and certainly didn’t trust him, but he was still a courtier and had a duty to pay him respect, so he came in and sat down awkwardly on the edge of a chair.

“Yes, my lord?” he answered, the very image of servility.

“I’ll be straight with you. I’m worried about Hamlet. He hasn’t been himself for a while and I just want him to be happy.” Horatio raised an eyebrow, unconvinced, and Claudius hastened to add, “I know he won’t tell me anything and won’t let me help him, but you can. Please, Horatio, help Hamlet get better.” And then he knew exactly how to remove this latest obstacle.

“Why did you do it?” he said in as serious a voice as he could muster. Before the king could ask what he meant, he said, “Who of all the court had the most to gain from your brother’s death? Who had the money to pay off any inquiries that came his way?” He paused for effect and smiled “Who has been in love with Gertrude ever since they met?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he answered, his panic barely controlled.

Horatio leaned forward in his chair and looked him in the eye. “Oh, I think you do,” he said quietly. “I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s hiding there in the corners of your mind and you’re scared to look at it because if you do you won’t be able to claim plausible deniability anymore.”

“I deny nothing, because I have done nothing wrong.”

“Of course,” Horatio agreed. “I just wonder how long you can keep pretending that.”

Claudius stood up then and looked every part the royal authority. “Get out of my office,” he yelled.

As he left, Horatio smiled to himself. The king would not give up prying into Hamlet’s personal affairs, but at the same time he would not be able to stop thinking about this conversation. For now, that was enough.

***

“I’m telling you, the king is spying on you. He’ll do whatever it takes to figure out what you’re up to.”

“Horatio, honey, I’m a prince. People have been watching me my whole life and I turned out fine.” Horatio snorted and Hamlet smacked him playfully on the shoulder. “Okay, maybe not, but it stopped me from getting killed. Anyway, if I were going to get all paranoid you’d be the first one I’d suspect of being one of the spies.”

“Well,” he admitted, “he did ask me to keep tabs on you.”

“And?” Hamlet asked as if he already knew the answer.”

“I pretty much told him to shove it.”

“You see? I’ve got nothing to worry about because I’ve got you.”

“I hope so,” Horatio answered, more to himself than to Hamlet.

***

Somehow or other, Ophelia had to go. He couldn’t stand her simpering little voice or the way she clutched at Hamlet’s arm. Most people spoke of her unsurpassed beauty, her eyes like limpid pools, her lily-white skin, but Horatio saw her for what she really was. Her eyes thirsted for power, her fingers itched for the royal jewels, and she planned to get it all through Hamlet, his beloved Hamlet.

Yet Hamlet was blind to it all. He couldn’t see how she lusted after him and he couldn’t see why. He wrote her letters out of courtesy and when Horatio asked, he insisted that she was only “a friend”. She’d destroy him sooner or later and he wouldn’t even realize it was happening. Clearly Hamlet would be no help on this front against anything that would do him harm. Horatio was on his own here, but somehow Ophelia had to go.

***

Horatio watched the king talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and wondered what they were discussing so intently. Surely it boded ill for Hamlet. The two of them had been great friends once, but they were undeniably stupid and if Claudius had gotten to them first they were not to be trusted. Rosencrantz tended to remember only what was told him last and alone he might pose no threat, but Guildenstern would worry at a single problem until it made sense and he probably planned to do the same with Hamlet.

When they approached Hamlet, Horatio could see by his bearing that he’d easily head them off. Though they might uncover something, they’d have no idea what they held. Still, Hamlet could not keep himself hidden forever and when they began to tread too far, Horatio would be ready.

***

“Horatio,” he called, “My most loyal friend!” and Horatio immediately felt guilty for all the harm he hadn’t meant to cause.

“Please don’t, my lord,” he protested, “I do not deserve such praise” You’ve been hurt and I don’t know if I can fix you, he meant. I’ve put my desires for you over your own.

Hamlet, bless him, mistook his meaning quite. “Oh, do not think I flatter. Why should the poor be flattered?” Thanks for nothing, Horatio thought mutinously, but he understood that he truly thought it was a compliment, so he said nothing. “Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice, it was always you. You are my rock in a tempest, the branch to which I cling when everything else is falling apart.”

Once, not very long ago, Horatio had thrilled to hear those words, but now they reminded him that he had become the tempest. If he didn’t stop Hamlet from talking, the words would crash into him like waves and dash him against the shore. “You had something to tell me about the play?” he prompted.

“The play?” for a moment, Hamlet looked lost and bewildered but he remembered himself and the moment passed. “Oh, yes, the play! There’s a part in there that I wrote – you’ll recognize it, it’s not as good as the others – to trap the king. I want you to watch him and see how he reacts.”

“If he steal aught, I myself will pay the price” Horatio smiled to himself. Claudius had stolen the blame and Horatio’s words were still as good as sterling in Hamlet’s ears.

***

When all the players were dead there was still plenty of blame to go around. Claudius called for light but when it came it revealed nothing, for Horatio remained hidden in the shadows.

They rejoiced together for different but parallel reasons and after some time went their separate ways. Horatio walked the hallways he knew so well and listened to the far off echoes of music from happier times. The song was a lie, he knew. He had destroyed the foundation stone and now everything had fallen apart. Now it seemed that events congregated to test their reactions, but he already knew what his would be. If Hamlet was threatened he’d destroy it and if not he’d let it be.

He didn’t even notice where his feet were taking him until he nearly walked into a tapestry of Imogene the Chaste. Somehow he’d come to the back entrance of the royal bedchambers. He had no quarrel with the Queen, and did not assume she did anything wrong in this. He planned to tell her so himself when he heard voices on the other side of the curtain, so he froze. “You are the queen,” he heard Hamlet say, “Your husband’s brother’s wife, and – would it were not so – you are my mother.” Horatio was unsurprised by the anger he heard there, though he knew it was undeserved. But there was a hint of something else – longing perhaps – that he instinctively rebelled against. He told himself that he was being silly, that he had nothing to be jealous of, but couldn’t shake the feeling.

He’d seen enough. If Hamlet planned to leave his best friend for his mother, Horatio couldn’t stop him. He turned to go, but not before he heard a rustling in the curtain that he hadn’t caused. He pushed it aside and saw Polonius, the king’s closest advisor. His daughter only wanted the crown and his son wanted no monarchy at all. The entire family was rotten to the core and now he had the chance to eliminate their patriarch. So of course he took that chance. As the blade slipped between the old man’s ribs he muttered “That’s for spying on people who only wanted to live their lives.”

His struggle caught the attention of the two people in the closet and Horatio heard a chair being knocked over, but for a few seconds he simply couldn’t move, struck by the enormity of what he had just done. “What ho, a rat,” Hamlet said, and opened the arras directly onto Horatio’s face. They stared at each other for a few helpless moments. “I’m sorry” he mouthed desperately, and Hamlet nodded and answered “Get out of here.” When Horatio still did nothing he hissed “go” more urgently. When Hamlet raised his voice to declare Polonius “Dead, for a ducat,” Horatio ran down the hall and didn’t look back.

***

According to the coroner’s report, which Horatio was not supposed to read in the first place, Polonius had died by two separate stab wounds – one in the back, which he knew about, and one in the chest. He didn’t understand at first how this could happen, but then he realized that after he had gone, Hamlet must have attacked the spy behind the curtain himself. Was he finally taking a stand for himself? He hoped so, because this could only make him a better king. Horatio leaped up and ran out of the morgue and was halfway up the stairs to congratulate Hamlet on this development when he remembered – the prince was gone, sent to England on some ridiculous pretext.

Horatio felt a chill go down his spine with the cold realization that if Hamlet made it all the way to London he would never return to Elsinore. He had to get the prince out of there and there wasn’t much time! He paced around his small quarters as he tried to think of something and finally remembered that he still had influence in some more unsavory circles. “My dear Dread Pirate Roberts,” he wrote.

He only hoped the letter would get to him on time.

***

Horatio was lonely and didn’t know what else to do while waiting for his dear friend, so he went down to the tavern and struck up a conversation with some of the young men from the village. The consensus seemed to be that Hamlet had been sent away because he was mad. It could have been worse, he comforted himself. At least no one suspected that he had killed Polonius. Insanity could be temporary, but homicide was in the past and therefore more permanent.

Maybe, he reasoned, if he had another contestant for the throne, the crown prince would fight back and finally get what he deserved. “So there’s no crown prince now,” he said offhandedly. “What happens when Claudius dies?”

“That day’s a long way off. Let our children make that decision when it comes.”

 “Still,” he continued, shrugging, “You’ve got to plan for the future. Laertes could rule Denmark, don’t you think?” He hated the words even as he said them, but he knew that the news would galvanize Hamlet into action more than any other.

“Laertes?” One of the men laughed. “I’d love to be his subject, but he’s in France and he won’t leave the country he loves just for power.”

“He’ll come back when he knows about his father,” Horatio countered. “And then you could convince him to stay from there. Laertes should be king, Laertes king!”

As the riotous head took up the cry, Horatio smiled. Hamlet would never stand for this, and then Horatio would have his own sweet king back.

***

“Your father should have died a long time ago,” Horatio told the girl sobbing in front of him. “Everyone’s happier now that he’s gone.” Actually, he couldn’t quite be sure of that. He knew that he was pleased about it and Hamlet was probably relieved to be rid of the old fool. No doubt Laertes was furious when he heard of his father’s madness, but Horatio knew that such a dangerous anarchist element could only be happy that the man in charge of surveillance could harm no one else, no matter his relation.

“You must be lying, Ophelia protested. “My father was a good man and he remained loyal to whichever king he served. How can it be good that he’s dead?”

Horatio grinned. This girl was already mad with grief. Could it possibly be so easy to push her over the edge? “If he was really so loyal, why would they bury him with no great honor? The entire royal court breathes easier with him out of the picture. Just accept that and move on.”

Ophelia’s eyes grew wide. “No, no, it’s not true, it can’t be” she murmured, then began to sing, “They bore him bare-faced to the bier.” Horatio could clearly see the signs of a mind that had snapped under too much pressure. Once he might have felt bad for the wretch, but those days had passed long ago.

***

Then finally, wonderfully, after far too long, Hamlet was wrapped in his arms once more. “Oh my darling,” Horatio whispered, “it’s been too terrible without you. I could hardly bear it.”

“But I’m back now,” his friend answered absently, but he seemed distracted by the graves around them. “Funny how no matter what you do with your life, all you really need is six feet of earth.”

“That’s not all. We need each other; we need to be loved.” Otherwise, he added in his head, everything I’ve done for you means exactly nothing.

“I love you,” Hamlet promised him, “I love you with everything I am and I’d brave all the demons of hell if that could be enough to prove it to you.”

“No, Hamlet, that’s my job.” What was the point of all he had done to save the man he loved, if he just went to hell of his own will anyway?

Before he could dwell on that for too long, the funeral train came out and Hamlet freaked out. Horatio didn’t understand it. Hamlet had always seemed indifferent at best towards the counselor’s daughter. Was it possible that he had misjudged this relationship as well? It hardly mattered because what was done was done and Horatio did not have Ophelia’s blood on his hands so it wasn’t really his fault.

***

“So then I switched the letters and sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on their way,” Hamlet finished, and then he smiled as if he expected praise. Horatio hesitated. What could he say? He had had the chance to kill those spies on the boat and just let it go by. Was this the kind of king Horatio was going to serve?

“You did good to take action,” he finally answered, then changed the subject abruptly. “But what about Laertes? He plans to take over the throne and then what would keep him from killing you?”

“I do feel bad about this afternoon,” Hamlet admitted. “I shouldn’t have lost control like that. He’s a lot like me, losing his father so violently while he was away. It must have been such a shock to him.”

“A shock,” Horatio repeated hollowly. How could Hamlet feel sympathy for this angry young man? “But what are you going to do about him?” he pressed.

“I don’t know.” Hamlet paced back and forth, confused and restless. “I really don’t know. I think we could have been friends, really good, and we could have been happy.”

“No,” Horatio said, but Hamlet ignored him.

“Why not? You and Laertes and me, all working together, we’d have been a good trio.”

“No. He beat me up all the time when we were kids. You wouldn’t know that because you never asked about the bruises.”

Suddenly Hamlet spun around and looked him straight in the eyes. “You killed a man, Horatio,” he said, his voice turning into a pathetic bleat at the end.

Horatio shrugged. “Well, you helped. And then went on to send two more men to their deaths. Besides, I did it all for you. It’s the monarchy and that’s how we get along, right?”

“So we say nothing?”

“Exactly,” Horatio answered, “We say nothing.”

***

“You will lose, my lord.” Horatio suddenly knew this as a certainty and it terrified him. All his life he had only ever been sure of the bad outcomes in the world. But there was no question about it – if Hamlet played, he could not possibly win and Horatio would lose everything.

“You worry too much,” Hamlet said gently. “Whatever else Laertes may be, he is an honorable fighter. He will be fair in this."

“Maybe when he works alone,” Horatio said because he still could not stand to disagree outright with his prince. “But perhaps under your uncle’s influence, honesty is not foremost in his mind. Don’t worry,” he added as his friend opened his mouth to protest. “I cannot stop you from doing whatever you want. I never could. Just… be careful.”

Hamlet kissed his forehead tenderly. “I’m always careful,” he assured him.

***

Horatio had no particular quarrel with Gertrude. She loved her son almost as much as he did. And of course he knew that she was innocent of all wrong doing. He did not blame her for marrying her dead husband’s brother, because how else could a woman keep her agency. Besides, Hamlet Sr. had been a terrible king.

So of course he was upset when she collapsed and gasped out “poison” and “treason. He could see in Hamlet’s eyes that he too was horrified. But neither of them had much time to mourn her because things fell apart very quickly after that.

***

He savored the moment that Hamlet’s rapier drew blood on Horatio’s most feared enemy. The innocent queen lay dead and her cruel husband fell soon after her. But then Hamlet himself, his most dear lord, fell and continued to make some speech about everything that had happened up to this point. It was obvious that he was fading fast, and Horatio was determined to go after him. He looked in the poisoned chalice and found there was just enough liquor to do the deed.

Hamlet held up a hand and beckoned Horatio to his side. “God has set his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter,” he reminded him hoarsely.

What about letting yourself slide into a terrible spiral of self-destruction, Horatio wondered. What does God have to say about that? But he couldn’t actually say that to his best friend in his time of dying. Besides, then he’d have to examine his own spiral.

“Every king needs an entourage, and I may be the only one who believes in you, so I must follow wherever you lead.”

“No, you are just a man,” Hamlet answered, “But as you are a man, leave off the coward’s route and do not drink. By heaven, I’ll have it!”
With one last burst of strength, he grabbed the goblet to finish off the dregs. “Now that I have your attention, I have one last request.”

“Ay, my lord. What would you have of me?”

“Horatio, I want you to tell my story.”

“Oh, Hamlet” That was the one thing Horatio could never do. He was sure now that it would utterly destroy him if the truth of the circumstances of his father’s death ever came to light. Even beyond the grave, Horatio could never do something that awful. “Please don’t make me,” he whispered.

“Horatio, I’m serious. I want the future generations of Denmark to remember me as something other than crazy. I want them to know how I fought for my family no matter what stood in my way. Put your own pain aside for a bit and help me live forever.”

“Oh,” he said. He could tell of the events leading up to his death the way Hamlet imagined it had fallen out. A loyal son and a loving mother who tried her very hardest. A girlfriend mad for the loss of her father and a brother mad for the loss of his sister. These would be the members of the cast. And there would be him, the best friend who never left his prince. “Yes, of course I’ll tell your story.” As for the rest, the plotting behind closed doors, the slow chase into insanity and misplaced guilt, all the darkness he had been a part of, well those would just stay hidden in the shadows forever.

“And the rest – is silence”


Hamlet never knew how perfectly his last words echoed Horatio’s thoughts.


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(Deleted comment)
Excuse me, but are you serious? This is the longest Shakespeare fic I've ever written and it took a risky idea without apologizing. I've been anxious for feedback because I don't even know if the concept of an evil Horatio works. How dare you defile it with a random spambot?

*Smite the non-people*

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