Rating: Just a little past G
Word Count 1520
Disclaimer: I did not invent them
Note: Day-Clean is a word of West African or Caribbean origin, meaning the moment after dawn when the light comes forth.
Morning loved Archie, it always had. From earliest memory he had thought of the sun as caressing, of the light as gentle as his mother's hand. He rose toward the day with deliberation. Each day began clean, there was a moment, on waking, when the past had not hurt you yet. On Justinian, it had been the moment when he was alone, full in his own skin, and merely 'me.' That was the moment before he remembered who he was. It had only lasted an instant then, before he faced the pain of another day before him. But that moment of clean was enough then, to keep him trying to stay alive.
It was so much better now. When he had nightmares, he was able to wake to a real that did not hurt. When his eyes opened, he saw Horatio first. Then he was happy to remember who he was.
Lying in his hammock, as he was now, Archie was a languid lounging thing. He surfaced every four hours anyway, so coming up completely when he needed to, was no trouble. He thought of it as something like what the porpoises did. He had seen them, on the ocean's surface, with their sleek backs shining, as they drowsed. He wondered if they felt as he did, on mornings like this one, after love. He felt as if his insides had been replaced with something sweet and viscous, like heated honey.
He could feel little bruises on his upper arms, places where Horatio's teeth had come down just that little bit too hard. He would have to make sure that Horatio didn't see them, or he'd never do it again... And what a surprise, to find that he liked having his arms bitten.
Archie felt his mouth lifting in a very silly smile. And who would think that Horatio, who was so careful and gentle, would do such a thing?
There, now. The ships bell, and time for out or down. Archie hit the floor, braced for the roll of the ship, by long habit. Horatio, inches away, did the same.
Archie got his shirt on quickly. He had long practice covering his body, over the years. There had been marks, always. There were still scars, which he did not like to flourish around. It hurt Horatio to see them, for one thing. And Cleveland knew well what the marks were from. He had been a witness to some of it. Archie understood, Cleveland could not have stopped it. But Archie didn't like to see him seeing them. He didn't know how much the others knew. But anyway, the less the better.
Horatio was doing what he did every morning. He was standing, squinting dazedly at the day, as if the light itself were a betrayal. He was holding a pair of stockings, as if he did not know quite where to put them.
Archie felt a bubble of mischief rise up in him. He reached across and tapped Horatio on the nose.
“Wake up, sleepy.”
Horatio gave his head a resigned shake, and began to dress. His hair was wild curls, his mouth swollen, and cheeks red with sleep. He was scowling. He was lovely. As Horatio bent to draw on his stockings, Archie was able to see his lean white flanks, beneath his floating shirt. The ship gave a lurch, and Horatio, half naked, on one foot, gave a storkish hop. He was still all bones and white skin. He was lean with boyhood, even as he left it behind. Only Archie knew how soft Horatio's skin was. Only only Archie had leave to touch. Archie let his eyes close in a slow shivering blink.
When he opened them Horatio was properly dressed. He had begun the daily struggle with his hair. Horatio had a lovely ivory comb. Archie had seen it every day, since the first rainy day they had met. It was a delicate thing, with fine teeth. Archie suspected, though he did not ask, that it had belonged to Horatio's mother. He did know that it slid deliciously when Horatio combed him. But it was a misery for Horatio.
“Here. Let me.” Archie said. “You are nothing but elf-knots.”
“Well, I told you. There. Stop wiggling, Horatio.”
Archie worked from the ends up, until the comb ran free. He pulled Horatio's hair back, tight, and began a rapid four strand braid. Archie could feel Horatio's chest lift and fall, as he stood with his head bowed. They both enjoyed this small moment of touch. This much was permitted, Archie thought. This much, and not much more.
There, it was done. He handed the comb to Horatio, and closed his eyes. His turn now, and this might well be the only kind hand on him today. The comb slid pleasantly, and he could feel Horatio's hand, lifting the heavy hair off his neck, running a thumb there, making him shiver. Archie's hair was longer than Horatio's and finer. It was hard to scrape into a braid. And Horatio was slow in the mornings. He held the comb in his mouth, and cursed quietly around it. The cursing was new, in the last few months.
“Done.” Horatio growled. Archie nodded, feeling the tightness of the proper queue.
Archie turned to look at him. Something was troubling Horatio. Something more than it simply being morning, The brown eyes were clouded with something Archie had not seen in them before.
“Whats wrong Horatio?”
Horatio shook his head sharply. “I'll tell you later Archie, Later, all right? “ He headed up the ladder. Archie could only follow.
The morning unfolded with no time alone. Archie knew that Horatio had known that it would. He was unused to Horatio keeping anything from him. It made him want to shriek. It made him want to grab Horatio by the shoulders, and demand to know what was wrong. Someone who did not know Horatio, might not see it. But Archie knew by the lowered brow, by the soft twining of his hands. He knew Horatio, now by everything. Knew him, in truth, inside and out, Archie thought with a quirk of the mouth. Oh Honeybee...
After lessons they had a moment alone. Archie was doing better with his lessons now. Archie was sure that Horatio's help was the reason. Horatio demurred. He said it was simply that Archie was being struck about the ears less. Horatio's performance was nearly perfect, as usual.
After Lt. Bracegirdle dismissed them, Archie fairly pinned Horatio against the taffrail.
“Tell me. Tell me now, what is bothering you. I missed it first thing this morning. But now I need to know. “
“All right.” Horatio took in a deep breath, and let out a big sigh. The eyes he raised to Archie's now were luminous with tears, fervid with worry. “You are always so happy in the morning. I didn't want to worry you.”
“Well, you have me worried now.” Archie said shortly.
“I had a nightmare.”
“Come now, Horatio. You have said you wanted to hear my dreams.”
“All right. All right. It was awful, Archie. I dreamed, it made no sense, but I dreamed that you were taken from me. I saw you going away somehow. I couldn't reach you. I don't remember the details. I reached out but you were too far. And it was because of some mistake I made. I lost you Archie. It was – it was awful.”
But Horatio was shaking his head. “No, that isn't the worst part. I found you again, after the longest time. And you were buried in a hole in the ground. You were buried like a dead man, but you were alive Archie, and it was my fault. It was all my fault. I love you. It was my fault. I love you.”
Archie looked around sharply, but there was no one to hear. It was safe, as safe as safe ever was.
“It was just a dream, Horatio. Dreams never make any sense at all. How could I be in a hole in the ground? I'm a sailor. And so are you. We'll keep each other safe.”
“I guess so.” Horatio looked pitifully willing to be convinced.
“Horatio, next time you worry, tell me right away. I'll find a way to make you feel better.” Archie gave a practiced leer. He wanted no more talk of holes in the ground.
“No more dreams. Horatio. Leave the dreams to me. At least mine make sense.”
“All right.” Horatio gave him a smile. That was better. Archie took the risk, and touched him gently on the hip. The way that they were standing no one could see.
“I love you, Horatio. I'm not going anywhere.”
“Keep each other safe.”
“That's right Horatio.”
They headed forward, together.