Title: On Going Home, Chapter 25
Word Count 1373
Disclaimer I did not invent them
On Going Home, Chapter 25
They sat together, in the shadow of the stern rail. The wind was fresh on Horatio's face. Archie was close enough that they could speak very quietly. He was not close enough to excite curiosity.
Only their eyes were touching. And then, Horatio thought, only sometimes. Archie's gaze lowered again and again to the little book. He held it with the very same gentleness that he used when he touched Horatio's face. Several more times he lifted it to his nose.(Horatio shuddered at this. It could only smell of Keane's cabin.) Archie rubbed the book against his cheek. It was as if he wanted to absorb it completely.
Horatio was delighted. He had never given anyone a gift. Not a real one. When he had been very small he had given his father flowers, and sticks, and little drawings, and pebbles. Those were the offerings of a very small boy. (Horatio knew that they had been well received. His father still had some, in a box, along with Horatio's baby teeth.)
This was totally different. He was grown now, and this was Archie, and giving him the book had felt as raw and daring as that first kiss.
Looking at Archie, he was so glad he had done it.
The silence had drawn out. Archie was looking at him quizzically, lounging, with one knee raised, and an arch in one tawny eyebrow. Nobody could lounge like Archie. But if Horatio didn't say something soon, Archie would leave, he would go off and read.
“What did Captain Keane say to you, Archie?” Horatio asked. As soon as he said it, he regretted it. Captain Keane was a tricky subject for them.
Archie made his bitter medicine face. “Not much to purpose.” He said. “He said that I had grown up a lot in the past four years. I chose not to thank him for Simpson's help with that.” Archie's voice was harsh and dismissive. His normal slight drawl was clipped.
“Archie, I know that you don't like him --” Horatio tried.
Archie gave a strange sort of sharp sitting fidget.
“He is my captain, Horatio. My superior. It is not for me to like or dislike him.” The flat tone of Archie's voice chilled Horatio. He knew that Archie blamed Keane, and he knew why. It even made a sort of sense. It was just that Horatio's feelings were not as clear.
“He did say one thing that surprised me, I suppose,” said Archie. “He spoke of you.”
“Yes, he said that he was glad that I was a friend to you. He said that he had heard that we work well together. He intends to mention this in a note to Captain Pellew. We may end up being placed often together.”
“Archie – that is wonderful. Why did you not say so right away?” Horatio was smiling. But to his dismay, Archie did not return the smile. Archie pulled his other knee up, curling in on himself, with the little gift-book against his stomach.
When Archie spoke his voice was sad. “Don't you see, Horatio? I am glad of it, of course. But it is all about you. It is about getting the best out of you. After four years, Keane still doesn't see me.”
It was absolutely dark below decks. The midshipman's birth was as ever. Archie's hammock was the same. It smelled like his sleep, and was pleasantly rough under his cheek. He had slung it next to Horatio. Horatio was next to the bulkhead. The only difference was the emptiness. Clayton was gone, Simpson was gone. Hether was up with Dr Hepplewhite. He had been ill weeks now with tertian fever. Cleveland was snoring in his accustomed place, by the other bulkhead. The little squeakers, few that there were, were over by the gunner.
Archie had been afraid to enter the berthing space. Even through he knew, he knew he was safe. His innards still lifted horribly when he went to stow his dunnage.
And if he were honest with himself, he was still afraid. Lying next to Horatio, in the strangely empty dim, he was still afraid. It was his stupid body. His heart wanted to pound, his mouth wanted to dry. He had been horrid to Horatio today. To Horatio! And on the day that Horatio had given him the best gift he had ever been given. Archie could not wait to get off Justinian. It was cursed, and he felt cursed with it.
Horatio was swinging gently next to him, it was too dark to see, but Archie could feel him, feel him like a fire, warm and sweet against his face. Archie knew he was not asleep. Horatio was silent. He had every right to be angry with Archie.
Archie squirmed in frustration. He had no idea why he could not just let Horatio worship Captain Keane. There was no harm in it surely. It was part of Horatio's nature to be ridiculously grateful. Archie was the bitter one. He should just keep quiet. They were leaving soon. It made no difference. Horatio would probably worship his next Captain too. Maybe the next one would deserve it.
He was wrapped in his own ugly thoughts, when the small sound came to him. He heard a small gulp from Horatio's hammock. It was not quite a sob, but the lonely little thing shook Archie.
“Horatio?” he whispered.
And Archie didn't know what to say. But it was too dark to see. He knew what he could do. He let his hand reach out and find Horatio's face. He let his fingers move over the angular softness. He let them find the eyes, the brows, the beloved nose. He let his fingers kiss where his mouth could not. Horatio's hair was loose for sleep, it was silken under Archie's seeking hand. He could feel somehow, more clearly in the dark, his fingers were wiser, when not constrained by sight.
Horatio's hand rose, and Horatio's fingertips traced gently, gently over the back of Archie's hand. Horatio's fingers traced the pale green veins, they found his callous, between the thumb and forefinger. They caressed his nail beds. And Archie could feel, how sensitized those long fingers were, by the darkness. He could feel Horatio feeling him, and it was exquisite. Archie let his hand find Horatio's mouth. Horatio opened for him, and pulled Archie's fingers into the heat for a sucking kiss. Horatio's hand was touching Archie's wrist and arm. The touch was so light, and it felt so very good. Archie's fingers slid under Horatio's tongue. Horatio teased between them, gnawing tenderly, and flicking over them. Archie knew what he was thinking. Archie was thinking it too. He could not stop thinking of it.
Archie let his free down to his own hardness. His hips rose impatiently against his own stroke. But it was too dark to see, and Archie knew how to be very quiet. He could hear Horatio reaching the same compromise. Horatio was not as quiet. Archie could hear him gasping, and his blankets moving. It mattered not. Cleveland was still snoring.
Horatio's teeth were working on Archie's fingers now, biting and clenching. He was using Archie's fingers to muffle his pleasure. Archie had his own teeth bared in the dark. He had no free hand for his own mouth.
Archie felt Horatio reach his peak. He felt it as clearly as if he could see the wildness in the beloved eyes, the spurt of his prick. He felt Horatio subside, and his own wet fingers slide free of the wide mouth, gone slack. “Oh Archie.” Horatio whispered. “I love you so.”
And Archie was so moved, so shuddering grateful that he had barely time to get the wet hand down to join the first.
“I love you too.” He said, very quietly, when he could speak. “Go to sleep, Honeybee.”
He heard Horatio turn to face him, curled in his hammock, trustingly, awkwardly.
“See you in the morning Archie.” He said.