Title: Blood and Kittens
Word Count 1485
Disclaimer I did not invent them
“Very good Mr Bowles, we'll carry her by boarding.”
Horatio could feel the ugly crunch of the smaller ship against the skin of the Indy. It came up through the soles of Horatio's spread feet.
“Go, go, go!” Someone was shouting, the marines were surging, Horatio was hit in the nose by a red coated shoulder, and then he was running forward too, his heart was pounding and his mouth was dry.
He could not see Archie anywhere. Couldn't see anyone he knew. Everything looked so strange with the running and pushing. There were sounds from the other ship, crashing and whining, shouts and cries. Some cringing part of Horatio didn't want to move forward, he caught that part of himself, and squelched it. His underarms were slick.
He was going forward with the others now. No one need ever know about his shameful bodily fear. Then there was a great crash. The mass of men stumbled back, two steps, three. Horatio's seeking foot, unseen below him, hit something. Hit someone. The someone was soft and pliable, down on the deck, and pitifully crying.
Horatio stepped over him, drawing a gurgling sob of protest. This was a face he knew, Davey Williams. Davey Williams had been whole, standing in the sun, this morning. Now he was a gasping flopping thing, his leg carried away. (They always say carried away, Horatio thought, but really it was not carried away. It was not away at all. It was red mush on the deck further on, with a perfect untouched shoe sitting in it, shining obscenely. And someone should clean the leg-mush up, Horatio thought, before someone slips on it.)
Then the stupid thought slid away. He was kneeling, and the mass of men had mostly passed him by. Horatio's decision was made. He got a shoulder under Williams, and levered him up. Hot blood sprayed down, drenching Horatio's legs and feet. Williams sagged, silent now, unbalanced. Something knocked them, he forced them upright again, wavering on their three shared legs.Other blood sheeted Horatio's eye. He blinked, clawed it back, until he could see.
A blue coat was rushing by, a big man, a very big man. Horatio reached out ---
“Styles, Styles. It's Williams. Help me get him to the surgery.”
Styles heard, thank God, and stopped immediately. He put his strong shoulder under Williams on the other side. The three of them stumbled for the ship's dark interior.
The surgeon was a man that Horatio didn't know. His face was indistinct with shadow, streaked with sweat and blood.
“Put him there,” he gestured, “I'll get to him in turn.”
The surgeon was doing something to Lieutenant Chadd. Chadd's elegant arm was a tatter of blue and sticky red. Still, Chadd was standing at least. Someone was wiping at the sting of Horatio's brow. He pushed them away.
Williams was weeping. He couldn't wait. Horatio heard, as if from a distance, his own voice, insisting, pushing, pointing. Then Chadd too, in a tired voice, insisting too.
The surgeon nodded. He turned from Chadd to Williams, and did something. It was something that Horatio didn't want to see. It was something that made Davey Williams scream with more vigor.
Now Styles was poking at Horatio's face. It hurt. He pushed Styles away.
“Come Styles, we can do no more here.”
Outside, the deck was bright, disorderly. Things were all everywhere, all wrong. All ahoo. That was the word. Everyone was pushing back in the other direction now, around Horatio, standing stupidly still. They were shouting just as loudly, in celebration. He felt dizzy. The light hurt. He was shamefully weak. Horatio had missed the boarding action. And now, now he was going to vomit, or weep like a child. Disgraceful.
Someone stopped in front of him, took him strongly by the arms. Archie. Archie was speckled with blood, his hair, his shirt, even his teeth were spotted with it. He smelled of blood.
Scanning urgently, Horatio could see no harm on him. The blood was not Archie's
“Did you see me? Did you see me, Horatio?” Men were cheering all around now, Archie was dancing, in place. “ I killed two-- well, one at least. Where were you? Oh Horatio, you should have been there.”
Horatio was sagging a little now. He was cold. He could see Archie's eyes gaze sharpen in sudden worry.
“Your head is bleeding Horatio.” He touched gently. It hurt. Archie had never hurt him before, never. Horatio retched weakly. Nothing came out.
“Come, Horatio.” Archie said. His voice was quiet. “Let's get you below.”
Horatio stopped at the top of the ladderway.
“My division, Archie, I need to go, I need to tell them--”
“I'll take care of it.” Archie said. “You've had a great knock on the head. Your face is all swelled up and bleeding. You are not going anywhere but into your hammock.”
“Hammock.” Archie's voice was kind, but his eyes were flinty.
Horatio sagged down the ladder. Berthing was dim, silent. They were alone. Up above, Captain Pellew was speaking. Horatio could hear the cadence of his voice, it came from far off, the words were indistinct. The lantern light was swinging, buzzing.
“I've got a concussion, Archie.”
“I know.” Archie looked at him with soft eyes now, kissed him on the nose. It hurt.
Archie was easing Horatio's blood-stained jacket off, settling him into the hammock, easing off his shoes. It should have felt foolish. Horatio should have felt like a child. But he felt nothing.
“I'll take care of everything.” Archie said. “Don't worry, rest yourself now, Horatio.” The swinging light blurred and hurt. He shut his eyes. He felt one more light kiss, and Archie's footsteps receded.
Sometime later, Horatio felt a pair of quiet hands cleaning his face. They wiped the blood out of his hair, with cold water. Then they did something that stung quite a lot. He heard Archie's voice talking to the someone, but it didn't seem worth it to open his eyes. The hands person applied a bulky uncomfortable bandage. They went away.
Horatio slept. When he woke the berthing was full. Archie was sitting in the hammock beside him, reading.
“...Time is it?” Horatio croaked. His face ached.
“ 3 bells in the dogwatch.” Archie said. “You've been asleep all day. How do you feel.”
“Better.” Horatio said in the most robust voice he could come up with. “I can --”
“No.” said Archie. “Dr Searle has been, and he looked at you and you are confined to berthing for the next two days. You can return to your duties the day after tomorrow. He had written it all down here.” He handed Horatio a crackling paper. The writing on it swam, black and spidery, in the dim light. The light hurt anyway.
“You may get up to go to the head.” Archie continued. “And to eat.”
“I don't want to eat.”
“All right. I'll eat yours.” Archie took a deep breath. “The doctor also said that you are permitted up for Davey Williams' burial.”
“Oh, oh. He died?”
“Yes, Horatio. He'd lost so much blood. Dr Searle couldn't save him. Three other men died too. But the rest of your division is all right.”
Horatio felt a new dull pain. “I thought I might have saved him.”
“You tried. It isn't your fault that it didn't work.”
“I wasn't fast enough.”
“You did your best, Horatio.”
“I ---” And his mouth was turning down in a stupid childish bow. His eyes were hot. He shut them, fierce.
“I never really thought about killing people.”
Horatio said, with his eyes still shut. He was so grateful for Archie, Archie would never laugh at him for missing the boarding action. Archie would not blame him for failing Davey Williams. Never blame him, as he blamed himself.
“There will be time to think of it tomorrow.” Archie said. “Tonight you rest. Here, this may help.” A tiny weight settled onto Horatio's chest. It made a tiny sound. It was the gray kitten.
“You can stand kitten-watch.” Archie said. “Stay in your hammock, and look after Jeoffrey.”
Horatio let himself be distracted, he knew it was what Archie intended. He was too weak to resist. “I thought his name was Mittens.”
“Mittens is a stupid name. He hasn't got any mittens. He's all gray. And I read a poem once about a cat named Jeoffrey. He looks like a Jeoffrey to me.”
“Hmm,” said Horatio. “Jeoffrey-Mittens.” The kitten gave a tiny purr.