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To Absent Friends

Title: To Absent Friends
author Egantine_br
Word Count 850
Rating PG




“What did Cleveland want?”

Horatio let the question pounce the moment the door shut. He had been twitching with curiosity, even as Archie paid for the wine and the room. Now he was asking directly, his voice muffled and his arms extended as he struggled free of his shirt.

Archie sat down on the saggy bed, not undressing himself yet, but simply watching. It had been a long day. There was no reason that the conversation with Cleveland should make Archie sad, none at all. But he felt-- something. Maybe it was the shadow cast by Cleveland's joy, a small bitter voice that said 'Never for you.' Archie hoped it was not that. Or maybe it was just that the window was open here, and the night airs fresh. A land-breeze had come with nightfall and it trickled in past the curtains and it smelled of trees and fields further inland. It smelled of long-ago boyhood ashore. And tomorrow they would be gone from here, with the wrinkled sea rushing beneath them again. So maybe it was that.

Now Horatio's face had emerged from the linen. Horatio's brow wrinkled. He crossed to the bed.

“What is it?”

“Nothing bad,” Archie said. “No, don't worry. He drew me away because he was not ready to tell everyone yet. He and Miss Cathcart--”

“Mrs Cleveland--”

“Right. By God that sounds strange. Well. Cleveland said that he had known me half his life. Or just about. And they are going to have a baby.” Archie gave a one shouldered shrug. “Didn't take old Cleveland very long. I suppose it is only to be--”

“Expected,” said Horatio.

“Right,” said Archie.

“Lady Pellew knows, and the old man, and us. Cleveland is so happy Horatio. I have never seen him look so-- and he wants me to be the little thing's Godfather.”

“Ah.”

Horatio's voice was neutral. His hand was under Archie's shirt now, rubbing small circles of heat, gentle over the places that the past had scarred. The air from the window was chill, but Horatio was warm to lean against, so that was fine. And it was fine to jest, on a Thursday, of blood and the sickly season. But this was Sunday. Which was another toast altogether.

“Do you remember Hether?”

“Of course,” Horatio's voice was soft.

“He and Cleveland were such a pair, we used to skylark together when I first came to Justinian, Horatio, can you imagine? Even with everything bad.” Archie did not have to say what he meant by 'everything bad.' Horatio would know.

“I cannot imagine Cleveland skylarking.”

“I know, he did though. It used to drive Mr Eccleston mad.”

“Old Eccleston.” Horatio's chin rested on Archie's shoulder, and the wind blew, and they both looked at the uncertain fire on the inn's little hearth. Eccleston, first of the Justinian, had transferred with them to the Indy. A man who had succeded, made his step, secured his place and transferred to a fighting frigate. He must have looked forward to a life of valor and wealth. Eccleston had died on the deck of the Papillon; died in his own blood. Archie knew this, though he had not been there to see it. Horatio had said that Eccleston's chest had been crushed. Archie could imaginethat clearly enough. God knows he knew what it looked like.

Hether had never gotten his step. He died a mid, died of a fever, two weeks after joining the Indy. Archie had been there standing at the rail when Hether was given to the sea.

“And Clayton.” Horatio said. Archie felt a mild surprise. Horatio seldom mentioned Clayton.

“Aye.”

“And Mr Chadd, remember? What became of him, do you know?”

“Still alive as far as I know, on Arethusa.”

Enough. The room would be peopled with ghosts if they kept on this way. And some ghosts were too hard to lay back down.

Archie took a deep breath, and stripped off his own shirt. Horatio's skin was warm and smooth against his own, and he tasted of wine and smoke.

“Do you want to--”

“Do you need to ask? Have you lost your mind?.”

Horatio's voice was sharp with amused outrage, but his mouth was kind, and his movements careful. Memory walked the room, and care was wise. So careful, yes, but soon they were bare together, and moving together, and Archie drew Horatio above him, and watched, he loved to watch Horatio this way, Horatio shuddering, with his mouth open and his eyes shut, and close close, until there was no distance anymore at all.

The room was dark and warmer now, and Archie was almost asleep. He did not think he would dream, but even if he did, Horatio would know, Horatio would wake him, and not ask stupid questions.

“Did you say you would?” Horatio's voice was heavy with sleep.

“Would what?”

“Be his Godfather.”

“Oh,” Archie yawned. “Don't know if it is a him. Could be a girl after all. But yes, I said yes.”

“If it is a girl I hope it doesn't take after Cleveland.”

“Hmm.”

And that was the thought that followed Archie down into sleep, and he did wake, from a disturbing dream of a font, and a female baby with luxurious whiskers.