Title: Dreams of Marmalade
Rating R (it is shore leave, after all,)
word Count 1818
Dreams of Marmalade
“A coffee-house?” Horatio said. “Maybe we should keep walking. Don't you want something more-- entertaining?”
“Coffee, Horatio, I want coffee. Besides the place we went last time had entertainment and you scowled all night.”
“The place we went last time had a woman on a stage undressing to music. I had no idea--”
“Didn't you? You have been at sea too long.”
Archie was standing in a patch of shadow in the lee of the doorway. Horatio was in the sun, squinting. And his scowl and the sun made the top of his nose wrinkle in a particular way that made Archie want, all at once, to make him irritable, to make him laugh, to give him everything, always. He knew that Horatio cared for neither music nor naked women. But Archie had a certain sentimental fondness for both. And coffee was essential.
“Look, it is right next to an inn, Honeybee.” The endearment slipped out, before he could catch it. It was the nose thing. Had to be. “We can put down for a room, and then just relax, no more tramping around in the sun. Don't you want to lie down and --- read that book you bought?”
“Besides,” Archie said, “I like the name. I knew a hand named Starbuck once, on Justinian.” He was a good man-- pressed off of a Nantucket whaler.”
And all true. A good man, a skilled man, who had been kindly, in his way, when he could be, to a pitifully green midshipman. Archie had clung to that kindness. There had seemed, then, nothing but misery, in the whole round world. Now, standing in the shadows, Archie noticed, as he spoke, something new. The pain did not come, at least not the way he had become used to. That had been the worst thing. The way that the memory of kindness could scald. He braced always for pain, when he had to think of the horrid parts-- that made sense. But it was wickedly wrong the way that memory corrupted even the few good moments there had been in those days, and turned them to pain as well.
Anyway, whatever the reason, Horatio wrinkled his nose, blinked and nodded.
There was no stage here-- merely a high counter and a slate with prices. It smelled lovely, of spice and heat, and of being at leisure with no work to do. But it did seem to Archie, that the slate offered more permutations of coffee and sugar and milk than should be mathematically possible. Ought to be: large, small, middling, white, pale, dark, too sweet, just right, and bitter (which Horatio preferred.) Well, nine then, or twelve perhaps if some unknown factors were allowed for. Surely not thirty?
There was a young woman, fully dressed, and wearing a white pinafore. She smiled at him. The whole place was clean, good bright-work and dark wood. She extracted the coffee, (two of middling sized, one bitter, one sweet, no milk,) from a gleaming engine mounted on the wall. She took their money and put it in the till.
They retreated to a red settee, and sat to drink. Strange to have soft upholstery under him instead of wood. Archie leaned back a little to get the good out of it. The Indy was the best ship he knew of, but nothing on a warship was soft; (nothing he was permitted under the Articles, anyway.) Beside him he could see Horatio doing the same.
Archie reached the sweet bottom of his cup. He drank hot things fast now, out of habit. No telling when he might be called away from them, better to scald his mouth a little than end up with nothing, or with coffee salted with cold seawater. He turned the cup in his hands idly, enjoying the solid feel of it. It was not thin to translucence, like the cups at home. Nor was it the everyday china of the officers mess. This was warm and sturdy and heavy and round. It felt good in his hand. It was much like the way it felt to hold the back of Horatio's head when they kissed, the solid feel of the skull against his palm. He smiled at the thought. He was drowsy now, with the good heat warming him. There was no need to hurry. Horatio was still drinking. Slowly Archie slid his foot over until the side of it touched Horatio's foot. Horatio caught his eye, gave a flickering smile. Archie had to look down. He could feel his skin flushing. Shoe pressed to shoe, they sat.
He could hear faint music, coming from somewhere. The more time he spent at sea, the stranger the world ashore seemed. No need to figure it out-- nothing here wanted to hurt him. He could just enjoy whatever transpired. Maybe the music was coming from the street. It was no song that he had ever heard before. A strange sad tune, words without a story...
“Well that is just stupid.” Horatio said. His voice was quiet, but aggrieved.
“What kind of a song is that? 'Someone left the cake out in the rain...' I mean, really. Do they think they can just write anything?”
“Perhaps it is supposed to be symbolic.” Archie offered.
“Wet cake symbolizes nothing. If it did they would have covered it in school.”
“Hmm. Let's get our room settled.”
Archie did not say 'Let's go to bed right now.' He did not need to do that. And he was careful not to catch Horatio's eye, still he was aware of the bright dark smile, and the way that joy and sea-legs made Horatio ashore sweetly gangling.
There had been so many rooms shared, in the past four years. But each time they paid for a bed, and a door that shut, Archie's heart raced. Nobody questioned the motives of two sailors sharing a room. Thrift was assumed, and reason enough. Perhaps they were suspected. But nothing could be proved, as long as they were careful. Archie was going to be careful for the rest of his life. They had spent to many nights apart already.
There was not much in the room. There never was, and it did not matter. This room had a desk by the window, where a guest of the inn could write letters, a bed, a chair. Horatio, for the moment stood with his back to the window, half sitting, half leaning, against the desk. The sky, over his shoulder, tumbled with clouds, improbable yellow, and iron gray. The blue of the sky was sweetly muted, and even in the street the air had frisked. Now it was the sun that frisked upon Horatio, turning some of his curls a deep mahogany, leaving others in shadow. Archie stepped close, to share the sunlight. Horatio's jacket was warm beneath his cheek. He felt the deep inhalation, and Horatio's kiss in his own hair.
“You are going to have freckles by tomorrow.” Horatio had a tone of deep satisfaction. His voice was a hushed rumble, more feel than sound.
“You will have them here.” He ran his finger lightly over the bridge of Archie's nose. “And here, like this.” His touch was light as mist over the cheekbones. Archie shivered.
The fingers trailed down to Archie's mouth, to be kissed. He took them between his lips, tasting. Horatio's fingers were docile against his tongue, and that was so rare. Those hands were always in motion, at sea, always picking up and putting down, feeling, checking, saluting, writing, or simply wiggling. Here the tight nervous focus had drained away. There was no need to rush what was to come.
The bed was soft and wide enough for two. It sagged beneath them, rolling them towards the center. Just shirts and trousers now, and the rest jumbled on the floor. He could feel Horatio's heart through the thin linen of his shore-going shirt, could feel the changed breath and heart under his own. Pressed close, tight all the way down to his feet.
Horatio's soft mouth on his neck, soft heat, delicious, oh, his head was swimming. He brought his hand up to press him closer, and the teeth closed in a sudden nip. It drove a sound out of him, tight and high, and he scrabbled at his buttons to get his shirt away. He was over, and Horatio under now, and he drew back a little, sat up, straddling Horatio's thighs. There was time to do this properly with eyes to look, as well as hands and skin and breath. His hair had come loose, Horatio must have been working the ribbon undone. He could feel it tickling against his shoulder blades. He tipped his chin up shaking his head to make it tickle more.
Horatio was in the shadow now, and his eyes were watching Archie, Archie in the sun. His hands closed tight on Archie's hips, pulling him down and all against.
“You look like a--”
“What?” Archie's voice shook.
“You look-- do that again.”
But before he could comply he had fallen forward again, kissing and kissing, because Horatio's eyes were so huge and dark, and he needed to kiss, as he needed air or water.
“Please, oh. Oh that. Honeybee--”
He kicked the trousers away, bare now, they both were, and nothing to stop Horatio's touch, and it was perfect, his hand just that way, and all shrinking down to a hot point where he had to--
“Oh. Oh no, no. You stopped, why--”
“Had to. You were, and--”
Horatio was wiggling out of his own trousers, crushing them under his foot. And Archie gave a shaking laugh, because Horatio couldn't talk either.
And he rolled Horatio over himself, and the sun was shining, and a moment of fumbling, a few gasping curses, and then the sweet ache, as they both pushed.
And it did not take very long. The first one always went so fast. No time at all, before they were limp and gasping.
He reached out to push Horatio's hair back.
It was fine to rest a little, sleep a little, Archie thought. They had all night, and all day tomorrow.
“You going to read your book?” His voice was drowsy already.
“Soon as I can see straight, maybe.”
But Horatio did not. He rolled close, and drew Archie close, and the sun had moved. It was Archie sized, streaming in the window. He curled into the light, and he dreamed of morning, and coffee, and toast and marmalade.