Title Not a Hero
Word Count 749
Not a Hero
They fell together, a soggy heap on the deck.
The man was was cold as marble, without rank, without name. He had the value of any naked, unconscious man. That is, not much. Still, Archie could hear the raised voice of the doctor, such a mild little man usually. He was shoving his way in, dropping to his knees. He spared one raking glance for Archie and that was all. A man who had gotten himself drenching wet in a February sea needed no instruction. He was alive, if stupid. The other man now, he was more interesting. The doctor leaned over the man and began to do ugly things, doctorish things. Archie found he did not want to look.
It was Mr Bowles who pulled Archie to his feet. “Go below, Mr Kennedy,” he said. “Get warm and rest. You have done very well.” He handed Archie the discarded jacket, and he smiled. “Your buttons are in the pocket,” He said.
So Archie went. He went, squelching below in his wet stocking feet. He had forgotten to take off his shoes when he jumped. There had been an ugly moment, in the water, removing them. They were on the sea floor now. The fish could have them. He fumbled down the ladderway. His little sleeping place was quiet. Everyone was on deck. The urgent horror was draining away now, leaving him cold and sore and so, so tired. He was receding from himself, in that old way. No one had hurt him, so he could not think why. He reached up to fumble at his shirt.
He had not heard Horatio come in. He was up above his body now, and it all looked small and far and wrong. Horatio would help with buttons, that was all right.
Horatio didn't though. Not right away. He drew Archie close, soaking wet as he was, and held him tightly. Archie felt Horatio's breath shudder with the force of the embrace.
“You don't have to do it every time you know.” Horatio's voice sounded as if his nose were blocked.
“Be a damn hero.”
And that made no sense at all. Horatio was the one who had charged onto the burning fire ship, who had fought Simpson when Archie could not, who had gone back to the Spanish ship. He was always doing things like that. He was the hero, Archie was just small and far, and cold and wet.
The neck-cloth was gone now and Horatio was undoing the buttons at speed. He pushed the waistcoat and shirt away together, and Archie heard them splat on the floor. Here was his blanket. Archie huddled into it gratefully.
“The man is alive.”
Horatio, on his knees now, undoing trouser buttons. He slid the wet wool down over Archie's shivering flanks, he pressed a kiss, in passing, to the hollow of Archie's hip.
“Still don't know who he is. He's still out. Doctor says he may yet wake, but the longer it takes the less likely he is to regain any sense.”
Perhaps some bit of the flotsam had a name on it, Archie thought. Some ship had taken a terrible bruising. It may have sunk, it may have been been taken as a prize. The man still might be Spaniard or a Frenchman. No telling until he woke. And that made no difference really. Anyone would jump in for a man like that, a man alone in the ocean and likely to die.
The blankets on the floor made a warm nest. Horatio was undressing too, stripping himself naked in the cold air of the room. Archie could see the puff of Horatio's breath in the air. He stopped only to latch the door. Then the smooth stunning heat of him ranged all along Archie, Horatio had him tight, caressing down his back, his arse, his legs.
Home safe again. So tired. This must be why Bowlsie had sent him down. Here was Horatio's good heat, the breath, the heart of him, and the slow goodness of the caressing hand. Horatio said something into Archie's hair, something dear that needed no reply. He drew Archie closer, under his chin. Archie yawned, and he felt Horatio's chin press his head as Horatio yawned in response.
Sleep came, and he let it come, to bring him all the way home.