Title: Following a Head Injury
Word Count 1785
Disclaimer I did not invent them (except for Jeoffry Mittens.)
Following a Head Injury
Archie pulled his feet up under him, and tucked them. He could sit for hours like this, in his hammock, with his book settled against his knees. The hammock swayed with the movement of the ship, but if he held still, he was Archie-on-gimbles, and had the illusion of stability. The lantern was near enough to cast a yellow light on his page. He could see the door from where he was, before he was seen. He had only to flick an eye up. He had chosen his place in berthing with care. That was habit.
Best of all, from where he sat, he could watch over Horatio.
Horatio was confined to quarters, with a severe knock to the head. He had tried to bluff his way past Archie yesterday, claiming he felt 'very much better.' Archie had hardened his voice, and compelled Horatio back to his hammock. Horatio had fallen asleep instantly, pale and hardly moving. Archie had watched over him, and read, and eaten both their rations.
It was coming on toward evening. The berthing was mellow with the close of day. Cleveland was studying, with a book of his own. With Simpson gone, he was much more friendly and relaxed. Cadogan and Cardew had this watch. He had hardly had time to speak to them, only registered that they were about his age, and seemed no threat. There would be time to know each other well, Archie supposed, in the months and years to come.
Archie leaned out a little to get a better look at Horatio's face. The bruising was really amazing. Horatio wouldn't be sneaking anywhere today. Dr Searle had asked to be called if Horatio vomited or seemed confused, or complained of severe headache. That was clear enough, although Archie doubted Searle could do much in any case. Searle had not said anything at all about sleeping through 24 straight hours.
Part of his awareness was given to the soft rasp of Horatio's breath. It sounded all right, steady and sleepy, but not labored. It was a comfortable sound. He wanted so much to hold Horatio in his arms, and kiss that bruised face, and feel the sleepy breath against his neck. But that was not possible now. All Archie could do was keep watch. Better to think on trigonometry than on all the things he could not do. With a sigh, he brought his eyes to the page again.
Archie had not been thinking on it long at all, when he heard the clatter of feet down the ladder. He registered the sound of the little boys, nearest the ladder, and then Cleveland, hitting the floor, and then he was unfolding to his feet, to attention. Captain Pellew came through the midshipman's little world, with ease, as if it were a land known to him. His feet were deft on the deck of it, his tall head ducked of habit. His eyes were not unkind, but Archie felt certain they missed nothing.
Horatio did not stir. His long eyelashes rested against his cheeks, not even fluttering. Archie was rigid beside his hammock.
“You came through our recent encounter uninjured, I am pleased to see.”
“And you have been keeping a sharp eye on our Mr. Hornblower, I imagine. How long has he been asleep?”
“Since dog-watch yesterday, Sir.”
“Dr. Searle assures me he will soon be good as new. But in the meantime---Well, good-evening Mr. Hornblower.”
Horatio's eyes had squinted open, and he was struggling to get to his feet.
“No, no, lad. As you were.” Pellew pushed him back, gently.
“S-sir?” Horatio sounded puzzled, and very young suddenly.
“I wish you to rest and recover, Mr Hornblower. Dr Searle has his hands full, just now, and does not need you collapsing from exerting your powers too soon.”
“I am sure I will be quite well by tomorrow, Sir.” Horatio tried.
“Maybe, and maybe not.” Pellew replied. His tone was repressive, his brows were lowered. “You will report to the doctor in the morning, and do as he instructs.”
“You are lucky in your companions, Mr Hornblower. You have the inestimable value of Mr Kennedy's company, and it appears you also have the affections of Mr Cleveland's kitten. You will return to your duties when you are cleared to do so. In the meantime rest, and consider your luck.”
Pellew reached out, and drew a finger down Jeoffrry Mittens' back. He gave a nod that was at once warm and commanding, and he left the berthing.
Archie realized that he was still at attention, and furthermore that his mouth was hanging open. He shut it, and scrambled back into his hammock.
“What do you make of that?” Archie said.
“He seems to like kittens at least.” Horatio said weakly. “I'm a little afraid of him, I think. I never expected him to come down here.”
“Keane wouldn't have.”
“How do you feel?”
“Better, really...” Archie gave him a withering look.
“It's a good thing there is no looking glass in berthing, Horatio, the bruising on your face could scare the entire French fleet.”
“Really? It feels all strange. Just puffy and numb. It doesn't hurt much.”
“It will.” Said Archie with grim certainty.
Horatio nodded tiredly, Jeoffry Mittens had settled into the sweetly sensitive spot between Horatio's neck and shoulder. Archie pushed down the urge to supplant the kitten. He returned doggedly to his trigonometry. When he looked up again, Horatio was asleep again.
It was late, in the dark, when Horatio spoke. His voice was very quiet, but Archie was barely dozing.
“Do you want my blanket?”
“No.” Horatio was almost inaudible, but more than that, there was a quality to his voice that Archie had not heard before. He sounded small and lost. “Will you come and warm me, Archie?”
“Horatio, I can't. “
Archie sighed. This was a new Horatio, this pleading boy. Archie was not used to being the voice of reason. But, after all, someone had to be.
“Archie, please. It's dark, Cleveland is asleep. No one will know. I need – I need you with me.”
Archie was torn. He could feel his feckless body responding to the want in Horatio's voice. His heart and his hands and his cock, none of them cared anything for the articles of war. If they left berthing together someone would notice. And Horatio was acting so oddly, if Archie sent him on alone, he was not sure that Horatio would not collapse, or endeavor to fall overboard.
“Well,” Archie said, “I don't think we'll fit in the same hammock. Get down on the deck. Wrap up in your blanket. Do it quietly. I'll join you in 10 minutes. But we have to be really silent.”
Horatio slithered to the floor. He was fairly quiet, at least. Archie lay in his hammock, counting the minutes, and cursing himself for a fool. It was true that it was too dark to see a hand before a face. It was true that the watch would not change for two hours yet. Cleveland was snoring with robust regularity. The little boys were quiet. They had giggled for hours, but they were sleeping now. Still, Archie was certain that this was the stupidest thing he had ever done.
His heart was pounding. It was time. He could hear nothing from Horatio on the deck boards below. Archie dropped his blanket, and oozed out of his hammock. He waited a moment, absolutely still. It was so dark. Horatio was a dark shape against the darkness. If they were silent...
Archie reached out and found the warm skin of Horatio's neck. He stoked gently, fingertips alive with joy. Horatio's chin arched up, exposing more area for exploration. Archie could feel his heart pounding. Both their hearts.
“This is a really bad idea.”
“I know. Kiss me.” Well, at least that would stop his mouth, Archie thought. He lipped at Horatio's face, as gently as he knew how. In his mind he was picturing the scarlet and black and purple bruises. Two days from now they would be yellow and green. Archie knew how each stage felt.
“Oh God, Archie. I want you inside me.” Horatio was moving against him shamelessly. His voice was very very quiet, but his need was clear.
“No, Horatio. We can't do that here. We can't do it tonight. But soon, I'll figure out a way.” That was the best Archie could do. “Lie quiet, Honeybee. I'll tell you how it will be.”
Horatio nodded, and lay, quiescent. “I'll find a place, I'll find a way that we can be alone,” Archie said. “Someplace better than this. And I'll do all the things you like. Remember how it feels when we ---”
Archie let his words comfort them both. He whispered things in the dark, into the curve of ear, things he had never said aloud before, lovely things unsuited for words. He let his hands down to stroke and soothe Horatio's rigid need. The sooner this was finished the better. Archie let his kisses touch, as the water lapped the shore, lovingly, knowingly. He could feel the soft fuzz beneath his mouth. Horatio had not shaved today.
Soon enough he had Horatio writhing. He drew the blanket over both their heads. He brought his mouth down, in a muffling kiss. It didn't take long. Horatio sagged against him, gratefully. He was damp with sweat.
“Oh yes...” Horatio nuzzled against him, sleepily, and it felt so good. Archie wanted to stay on the deck forever, or at least all night. But they couldn't even do that.
“Let's get you back to your hammock. You go first.”
“All right. Archie?”
“Did you mean what you said? That you will find us a place?”
“Yes. I meant it, Horatio.” After all, Archie thought to himself, he knew most hiding places on ships. He had been dragged or forced into enough quiet corners, to know how to find them now. But Horatio did not need to think about how Archie came by such knowledge
Horatio climbed into his hammock, docile now. Archie followed. It was some time before he slept.