Title Over Cards
Rating G-ish, a few sailors words
Word Count 886
The cards were faded. They were limp
and greasy with the oil of constant use. As he moved them in his
hands Horatio could smell cigar smoke. They were perfect. He turned
to look at Archie. Archie was perfect too.
“Are you sure you don't want to
play?” Horatio himself was eager, his feet were dancing just a
little under the table, and he knew he was smiling wide and happy.
“No,” Archie said. “I'll watch
you though.” He gave his own lazy grin, and lifted his glass. He
was drinking whiskey, and Horatio knew he would taste of it later.
Horatio would try to chase down the taste of it, the taste on
Archie's tongue like autumn leaves. And Archie would be pliant and
warm, and laugh into their slow kisses.
Horatio was himself drinking ale. It
was neither bad nor good. He was sipping abstemiously. He was
careful, when he was at cards.
The game was short and sharp. The two
across the table had been strangers to them an hour ago. Now they
felt something like friends. The lieutenant across from Horatio lost
with grace. He slid his coins across with a rueful grin. He turned to
the chair beside his own.
“Pay up Mr Inkslate, Mr Hornblower
has bested us fair.” Thus addressed, Mr Midshipman Inkslate
nodded. He left off gnawing his lip, (which he had done the whole
time he held at his cards.)
“Of course. Only right.” Inkslate
had curls and red cheeks. He was quite ridiculously young. He looked
just a little like a very earnest sheep.
“An honor to play you, Mr
Hornblower.” His coins were warm from his hand, his voice had not
“So you are both on the
lieutenant said. He was a round shouldered fellow named Spivins, or
Spavins-- Archie seemed to find the name amusing. “How lucky you
is a happy ship.” Horatio said. “And we have had our share of
prizes. Captain Pellew never shrinks from the chase.”
and our share of freezing-arse blockade duty too.” Archie said. His
eyes were bright and his foot found Horatio's under the table. They
all laughed together.
you two meet on The Indy?” Mr Spavins asked.
Horatio said. “We were mids together on a smaller ship. The
never left Spithead.”
was moving the cards in his hands now, shuffling absently, enjoying
the feel of them. He was warm and he was sleepy. But not to sleepy
to-- Inkslate's voice broke his thoughts, shrill now with excitement.
had an uncle there--” And suddenly Horatio was watching in slow
horror. It was like watching someone fall from a great height. The
moment was viscous, stretched. He knew what the next words would be,
and they were. “--Midshipman Jack Simpson.”
mouth was hanging open. He shut it with a snap.
was still talking. “I did not know him well. He is my mother's
elder brother. He only visited a a few times when I was very
little. And he died, years ago, of course. But I always wanted to go
to sea. To be like him. Did you know him, gentlemen? Can you tell me
what he was like?”
mouth was dry. He had to speak, he –
voice, came smoothly into the silence. It was perfectly timed, smooth
and casual. Only Horatio could hear the sudden intensity of his
natural accent. Only Horatio could hear the bands of steel.
knew him longer than Mr Hornblower, actually. I remember him very
well, indeed.” Inkslate leaned forward, eyes bright.
was a tall man, as tall as Mr Hornblower here. Very strong. He had
yellow hair. He was articulate, and-- active. I will tell you one
thing, Mr Inkslate. When Mr Simpson decided on a course of action he
pursued it with all his strength and resource. That is a quality any
Navy man can emulate.”
was looking at Archie. It had to be now. Horatio flicked his arm
out, and sent the ale flying. It drenched the cards and the table.
Most of it landed in Archie's lap. The leaping and cursing was all
that he could have hoped. It ended the public portion of the evening
minutes later they were in the bedroom of the inn. The door was
closed and locked. Archie's trousers were in the washbasin. Archie
stood, barefoot, in his shirt.
me, Horatio. That-- he was just a boy. I didn't know what to say. I--
he obviously did not know. I could not say. Do you think I did
you said was a lie.” Horatio was thinking back.
“No, I did not want to do that
somehow either,” Archie said.
may come to know the truth sooner or later.”
hope it is later.” Archie said. “Much later.”
gave a deep sigh. Horatio watched him push the past aside, or back
down, wherever it went.
me to bed, Honeybee.” Archie said. And Horatio did.