Disclaimer I did not invent them
Scars and All
Horatio spit vigorously into the washbasin.
“Clean teeth.” He said with a smile. “Much better. That chocolate really sticks.”
Archie was lounging against all the pillows. He had them tucked under and around himself, legs arms, back, everywhere. He was buried in a sea of feathers. He had slept, eventually, in a deep and dreamless place. He had slept like a child. He was awake now, but heavy eyed. He was in no hurry .He was watching naked Horatio brush his teeth, That was a fine occupation. Horatio did not usually allow himself to be seen in his skin. He was strangely modest, even in midshipman's berthing. He seemed to have no awareness of his own grace and beauty. But today he was, for some reason, gloriously bare, for Archie's appreciative eye. He was washing splashily, brushing his teeth, actually speaking in a civil tone before what would be forenoon watch. Archie was not fool enough to break the spell.
They had the whole day ahead of them. They were not required to return to the Indy until evening. Archie had no idea why Captain Pellew had done them such kindness. He could not think himself deserving of it.
Horatio, maybe. Horatio was the sort of bright promising midshipman that older men liked the look of. They seemed to fall over themselves to help him along. That was only right. But Archie was not like that. After Simpson, Archie had no illusions at all about what sort of men looked at him.
Pale in the shuttered sunlight, delicious as chocolate and cream, Horatio turned to smile at him.
“If you get up, we can go looking for a book-store.” He said. “And I want to see the pig-tail steps.”
Archie was quite aware that he was being lured. A bookstore. Well. The lure was working. Archie surged out of bed in an explosion of pillows, and looked for the chamber-pot.
The air outside was fresh and brisk. The peculiar flatness of the day before had gone, and a little wind has come up. It shivered in the trees as they walked.
“Can you smell the salt?” Archie asked. “ I never seem to notice it at sea.”
“ I asked Mr Bracegirdle about that once,” Horatio said. “He says that is really the smell of the edge of land. He says nobody smells it at sea."
“Hmm.” Archie took a deep breath. He could smell it strongly – sea or land, whatever it was. And far away, faint on the new breeze, he detected fresh bread and coffee. He was not as mad for coffee as Horatio, but he did like it. And he was hungry, of course. He took his bearings with a good sniff, and headed for it.
They walked slowly, close but not touching. The sun was high enough now to warm Archie's hair, and shoulders. It was well into forenoon watch now, he could feel that much. And he could feel Horatio beside him, twitching with curiosity. People were moving in the street now, not enough to crowd them, but passing by on either side. The sound of their talk flowed choppily. Archie could pick out speech in Spanish, which he could follow with some effort, and Catalan, which was utterly alien. It was different in another way too. Womens voices lightened the mix, strange now, after so long.
The smell was coming from a small coffee house, on the corner of two quiet streets. The coffee was dark, and good. Archie followed it with sausage, and fresh buttered bread. He was intensely hungry now. It must be the vigorous exercise of the previous night, Archie thought. He had done nothing of note today, after all. Horatio was eating with the same delight. It went down so easy after months of ships biscuit.
“Archie, this is so good.”
“I know, I know.” Archie was smiling. Surely this was all he needed for happiness.
“Bookstore?” He said.
The street wound promisingly toward a series of little shops. Four shops down, Archie could see what they wanted.
He was two shops away when it hit him. He had had to learn to endure it of course. A midshipman could not cower publicly at the smell of cigars. Clayton and Cleveland both liked a good cigar. Archie had even smoked them. He could do that, when he had to, when it would have been odd not to do so.
If he was prepared he could manage – just. But sometimes, on some days, the smell caught him by surprise. It caught him out, when he was happy. When he felt normal. It was worse then. He wanted to stay in his body today, he wanted to stay with Horatio. It had only been a few heartbeats, Horatio didn't know yet. The world was full of cigars. It didn't have to be him. It wasn't him.
Then the laugh came – floating on the breeze from somewhere in the passing crowd. It was a carefree laugh, gurgle of joy set loose into the blameless morning. He knew that laugh, he knew just what made that particular being gurgle with joy. Cigars, Oh God.
The black spots came, and they grew. He fought them, but his vision went black. He was watching from above, when his shaking knees gave out, and the vomit came.
“Move aside..., Excuse me please,... Your pardon, ma'm... My friend has been taken ill.”
Archie was outside his body now, he couldn't feel pain there, or shame. Horatio was supporting him, propelling him, back to the inn, at great speed. Archie stumbled along. He stank of puke, . His head was down. He was watching from above, and knew himself a broken thing, revealed in all his damage. Horatio held him close, supporting him, speaking quietly to him of kindly things, as he shouldered them both through the crowd.
The door closed behind them, quiet, quiet. Horatio eased Archie into the chair by the fire. He closed the curtains, it was dim now. The room smelled of nothing. Archie shook. He shook so hard that he slid from the chair to the floor. Horatio was pouring water. Archie could hear that. He was setting the little washbasin by the fire to warm.
Horatio stretched himself out on the floor, next to Archie. He lay close, not forcing, not embracing, but only touching Archie's pale pained face, with gentle fingertips.
“Come back, Archie. Come back to me. Its all right. Its all right.” And Archie did come back, but nothing was right. He knew it never would be.
He struggled to a wobbly sit, swooned down again to the floor.
“Simpson.” Archie croaked. His throat felt lined with glass. “I heard him. I smelled – he's here. Here in town. I cannot... took me by surprise. I was so happy Horatio. Why don't I get to be happy?”
Horatio had no answer, but the kindness of his fingers, and the deep of his eyes.
After some time, the water had warmed. It should have shamed him, to let Horatio wash his face, like a nursemaid, It should have shamed him to let Horatio ease away the jacket vest and shirt. Archie sitting, shivered in his skin, and Horatio swabbed away the sickly stick of fear sweat. But Horatio kept him from shame, with small words, and easy hands.
“Horatio.” Archie's voice was a rasp. “It was him. His laugh, I heard it by the book-store.”
“I believe you.”
“I smelled his cigar. I hate cigars.” The shaking came again, but it was looser now. He set himself to endure. Horatio drew him close this time, held him warm, and it was better that way.
After some time, Horatio spoke. “I didn't know you hated cigars – Archie I've seen you smoke them.”
“Sometimes. Yes. I smoked cigars before Justinian. But he – he--”
Archie did not weep. He never did, not since his first weeks on Justinian, five years back. And he did not weep now. But he could not speak. He rested against Horatio, there on the floor. He shut his eyes, and let go of his dreams of bookstores.
Horatio's palm was rubbing his back, gentle on the spine, on the muscles beside it. The hand moved up, touching Archie's neck. Archie's damaged skin was beloved terrain for that hand now. Horatio loved him, scars and all. And Archie might tell, if he chose, but Horatio did not ask.
That is why it hurt his heart, to feel the loving hand pause, on his neck, as it found, with new knowledge, under his queue, the round raised burn scars