Title: After the Ball
Word Count 866
Disclaimer I did not invent them
After the Ball
He was back on the deck before he noticed. . He had not been sure, he could do such a thing. One fired a cannon to harm the body of a ship, to make the ship itself comply. Gun drill accustomed them to the thought of it, and the speed and the effort and the sound and smell. But striking with steel at the exposed body of another being – he had not been sure. Now he knew. He was like other men. There was a red place behind his eyes, he had not known was there. He had gone with the others, and roared and lunged, and forced a capitulation.
Back on the Indy, he stood with his head down. The other ship was small. They had not resisted long, but long enough. His sword was dripping. It felt like sin. Horatio felt the strange numbness fade from his body. Archie, beside him, grinning. Horatio had noticed before, Archie filled with euphoria after a fight. Horatio felt nothing of the sort. He felt tired. Some strangeness was leaving him, draining out his feet, leaving his head light. There was a distant pain in his lower arm, somewhere under the cuff of his coat. That hand holding the sword hilt was numb. Horatio waited to hear the Captain speak.
Pellew's voice was deep and easy. He dispatched Mr Chadd to take the prize ship into Portsmouth. He thanked the men, and dismissed them to watches only for the remainder of the day. Horatio usually listened carefully to Pellew's words. He liked to think about why the captain chose to say the particular things he did. Today he didn't seem able to focus. Horatio was pleased to be dismissed to go below.
It was dim in berthing. It soothed his eyes. He sat down at the mess table. His head ached. His arm hurt. Looking down at his shirt, Horatio was distantly surprised by the spreading soggy red. It seemed he should do something about it, but he was cold and his head ached. The climb up to Dr. Searle's office seemed to much. He was cold, cold and sweaty. He huddled into his coat.
“Horatio!” Archie had come. He must have dozed off. Archie had his arm, and it hurt.
“What have you done to yourself?” Archie asked, and he was peeling the warm away, the coat and the shirt, and he was turning the arm up to look at the pain. There was an oozing hole, in the flesh of his lower arm. Blood was welling, again and again, as Archie wiped it away.
“Horatio, you've been shot.” Archie said. His fingers probed and squeezed painfully, and Horatio gasped. “I can feel the ball, Horatio. It must have been almost spent. It is resting just under the skin. Do you want me to walk with you to Dr. Searle?”
“No. I'm cold Archie. I just want to stay here.”
“Hmm.” Archie let go of his arm, and Horatio huddled it against his chest. Archie was examining the shirt.
“There is no hole in your shirt. No cloth in the wound, Horatio. You've been lucky. I think with some good light I can get the ball out. If—if you want me too.”
“Please Archie. I'd rather it were you.”
Archie moved around, then, noisy and fast. He brought lamps, and it got very bright. Horatio shut his eyes. He opened them a little later to see Archie holding a knife. He closed them again, harder.
Horatio leaned against Archie's shoulder, and Archie extended the arm, with the vulnerable oozing pain, facing up. Archie was almost in front of him now, holding his arm down hard, hard enough that it felt almost numb. He used his shoulder to block Horatio's view, Archie moved fast then, and the knife cut and scraped, and the wet heat spread. Horatio leaned his cold sweating forehead against Archie's back. It hurt now, and he was dizzy, and he gave a retching sob.
“Got it.” Archie was pressing a clean cloth down hard, and the blood was coming more freely now.
“Hold it up, Horatio.”
“I know.” Horatio held it up. Archie wrapped a spare neckerchief around the linen, and tied it swift and tight.
“My knife is cleaner than Searle's probes, anyhow” Archie said. “We'll need to keep a close watch on it, but I think it will be all right. Here's the ball.” He dropped the blood stained bit of lead into Horatio's hand. Horatio closed his fingers around it.
“Lets get you to sleep.” Archie said. He slung Horatio's hammock, and helped him into it.
“I'm not sure that I can sleep.” Horatio said, drowsily.
“Oh, I think that you can.” Archie said. And Archie was petting his head, and the prickling cold sweat was gone. He could hear Archie climbing into his own hammock, and opening a book. Horatio knew that Archie would watch him sleep, and be there when he woke. His body, like his heart, was safe in Archie's keeping.