Title: The Influence of Goats
Word Count 994
The Influence of Goats
The walk was short to their quarters. Archie hugged the book to his chest, as a man would hold a treasure, a kitten, a baby. Horatio did not understand. Horatio loved books, of course. But he had never been forced to live without them. He had never had a time when he ran out of stories to tell himself, when he had revisited every memory he dared recall, and still he felt his mind withering. Horatio knew none of this, and Archie thanked God for it daily. All Horatio knew, was what he had always known. Horatio knew that Archie loved books.
And that was one thing was one thing-- but it was not attention to studies that made Archie clutch the little book. The picture, had been-- well. It had been warming. Artistic, certainly, a good example of the sculptors art. The satyr had looked absolutely real, as real as the goat.
It had warmed Archie in a way that made him very aware of Horatio walking before him. It made him visit in his heart, in the memory of his hands, the skin of Horatio's back, the spring and dip of his spine, the place at the top of his legs, where the skin was pale and soft. Horatio's straying curls were caught in the collar of his shirt, his queue was longer now than it had been the first time, back in Kent. That had been the first time his hair touched Archie's face. It had been so soft that day, an astonishment. Now, as then, it brushed Archie softly when Horatio was above him, it fell to stick to Horatio's brow, to his red cheeks, and both their open trembling mouths.
Thinking of that now had not been the best plan, he realized. He slid the book down to obscure the rigid rising. It would not fool Horatio one bit. But it might look a little better if they were greeted in the passageway.
They met no one. The passageway was empty, and the little room they shared quite private. Archie shut the door. They had an hour before the light must be put out. After that they would have only the tepid moonlight, reflected from the ocean, to be caught and hoarded by pale canvas and pale skin.
Horatio was turned away, undressing, splashing in the washbasin, Archie stood immobile, doing none of these himself, watching. Horatio was wearing only his shirt. He had worn it all day, and the day before yesterday, and three days before that. Archie knew Horatio liked a clean nightshirt at the end of the day, but water was tight just now. No one aboard could wash clothing.
This shirt had been sent by Mary, long ago, a gift. It had been greeted with joy, and installed as Best Shirt. Horatio had loved it, and Archie had come to know it very well. It had been worn and worn, on days of sweat, and nights of shivering, through blood and illness, and worry and joy, and hasty removal. It had drifted down the rotation. Now it was Horatio's least best. It was, however, Archie's current favorite. He loved the days Horatio wore it. The shirt was soft and almost translucent. It was also a little short. Horatio had gotten taller in the last two years. Archie could see a patched spot by the collar. He remembered watching him sew that patch. It had been a cold windy day. They had sat shoulder to shoulder on the deck. Archie had had mending of his own that day. He had done it absently, and well. But Horatio made heavy weather of such things. He had muttered and fussed, used more thread than he needed to, and an inadvisable stitch. Archie felt his mouth twitch, remembering.
Now Horatio stood, sighing, to wipe the water from his face. He rose onto his toes, hands at his lower back, he made a small sound. It was enough.
Archie, still dressed in his jacket and shoes, moved to draw him down and close.
"Does your back hurt? H'ratio?”
"Mmm. Long day.”
Horatio sagged back against him. Archie pressed his fingers in hard beside the spine. Even without an extra ounce on him, Horatio had solid muscle there. They all did.
Horatio turned in Archie's embrace, his bare feet put wide to even their height. His kiss was warm and wandering, neck, chin, nose There was no hurry now. Neither of them had watch tonight. Horatio's fingers were loosening Archie's hair, undoing the tight black ribbon. His hand slid under, rested warm on Archie's neck.
His lower body pushed tight to Archie.
"Thought you wanted to read,” Horatio said. His thumb was rubbing the spot behind Archie's ear, and his eyes were dark and glittering. Archie let out a shaking sigh.
“It can wait.”
He had Archie's shirt open now, and untucked. Archie's jacket not off, but pushed back and hampering his arms somewhat. Didn't matter. Horatio's hand was light over the stippled skin. Archie moved forward, pressing closer.
“You don't want to curl up in your hammock and read about Hobbins, or whatever they are? Those looked like good fat books.”
“I'll give you a good fat--”
Horatio laughed into their kiss. They went to the deck beneath the hammocks.
So many times it had been just this way, the two of them on the deck, looking up at the underside of the hammocks. The hammocks hung empty and crumpled, like a species of forgotten fruit. He thought of that, and Archie's least best jacket was a pillow for his head now, and Horatio's least best shirt was lifted high, for skin all the way down to the best, hottest, fullest skin. The ship rocked, the empty hammocks rocked, and for some time Archie thought about goats and satyrs. And then for a time he thought nothing at all.