itle: Office Visit Part 2
Disclaimer I did not invent them
Office Visit chapter 2
Horatio was pitifully glad to have his book to look at. He could feel the eyes of the others in the space. They burned between his shoulders with curiosity. They knew that Archie was his particular friend. How much more they knew, he was unsure. He had thought they knew little more, suspected maybe but knew-- well the had thought himself safe. That certainty was crushed now, under the heel of bowel watering fear.
What was happening to Archie? Had someone betrayed the worst? Was it some other infraction? Was he being questioned? Punished? Even now was he being stripped naked and bent over a cannon and beaten? Imprisoned? Would he be killed?
Pellew had seemed sane enough, in the few accrued moments that Horatio had stood before him. But one cannot look curiously or deeply at such times. He was a small being then, in the presence of the great. A captain can do as he likes, to small beings, who have no right to love.
The last hour of the work day, crept by, in fear and shame. The call came down for lights out. No one said a word, to Horatio, or to each other. Horatio lay in his hammock. He let the tears come. In four hours he had watch. Archie was supposed to be with him then. If he didn't know by then – well he would find out.
He was lying on his back, finally. His ears were wet with tears, and his nose was clogged useless. It had been an hour and a half, when he heard the footsteps, returning. Then, next to him, quiet,he saw the beloved shape of Archie. Archie undressed, and slung his hammock. He climbed in, as usual, quick as a cat. He settled. Horatio had stopped breathing.
Archie waited until the hammock motion stilled. Then he reached a hand out, pale in the dark.
“I know you are awake Horatio.” He said, in a voice that was so small it was nearly silent. His hand found Horatio's and gripped it, tight. He brought it to his mouth, and kissed the back, the knuckles, each folded finger.
“It's all right.” Archie said. “It was nothing bad. In fact, well-- let me tell you.” Archie took a deep breath, and rolled to his side. His face was close enough to kiss. Horatio could feel his beloved breath, and he blessed the heat of it.
“I came into the cabin. The Captain was there, and Bracegirdle. Horatio, I was so terrified. All I could think of was how to keep you safe. And I was trying to think of anything else I might have done wrong. God!” Archie drew a shivering breath.
“But it wasn't like that at all. He said, he said that he had received a letter from Captain Keane. A letter about my fits. Keane said that he had overlooked mentioning, when we transferred, that I had fits. But, having thought of it, he thought best to tell Pellew now. So, I stood there, shaking, I didn't know what to think. I just kept thinking, at least it's not the other thing. I didn't even know that Keane knew about my fits.”
“Simpson.” Horatio whispered. The sound was a hateful hiss in the dark. Neither of them liked to say or hear it.
“Yes,” said Archie. “That's what I think too. But Keane's letter seemed to say that he had known all along, and just forgotten. Makes no sense.”
Archie yawned. Horatio stared at him, still clenched inside, needing to hear the rest of it.
“So, Captain Pellew asked me about the fits. He had me sit down,, and tell him all about them. He wanted to know how often I had them, and had I always, and did I know when they were going to happen. And then he asked Mr Bracegirdle about my studies. He wanted to know about my workings, and my performance of my duties, and all those things. I don't know why he waited until I was there to ask Mr Bracegirdle They spend the whole day together, after all.
I didn't like talking about any of it, Horatio. It was awful having everything exposed like that. “ Horatio nodded, in the darkness.
“I was sitting there, not knowing what to expect. He asked about my childhood. He wanted to know what treatments my parents had sought. I told him all I could. I could be discharged for fits, you know.”
Horatio nodded. He did know.
“But he said, that since I know when they are coming on, and they remain infrequent, I am to stay. He wants me on the Indy, Horatio. He said so. He was – kind. “
Archie still had Horatio's hand. He paused a moment, to kiss it again, unfolding, to lip at the palm. Horatio could feel the softness of Archie's tongue tracing the lines and callouses. He could feel Archie smiling.
“I have not told you the best part, Horatio. I've saved the best for last.” Archie took a deep breath. “He said that we are to pull into Minorca, in two weeks, for resupply and repairs. He has ordered me to leave the ship, overnight, and go into town, and see a doctor there.”
“Oh.” Horatio could not think why this was good news. He knew Archie did not like doctors. None had ever helped him before.
“Captain Pellew does not want me to go alone – Horatio. He said he thinks that Midshipmen do best in pairs. I am to spend the night at an inn, after seeing the doctor. I am ordered to take you with me.”