Rating R, for tonsil hockey, and more
Word Count 1674
Disclaimer I did not invent them
He had been a fool. All those years on Justinian, Archie had thought he knew what pain was. He was confident he knew the shapes and the limits of hell. Hell was right here on earth, with his body being torn apart by Jack Simpson. Hell was a wooden ship. So he had thought at the time. What a fool he had been.
No. Hell was knowing that he had sent Horatio over the edge of the blue with a cool remark. “My congratulations,” he had said. He had said that as the envy soured his gut. Envy because captains never saw Archie. Hell was 3 days later, him being the one on look-out. Him, finding the flotsam and knowing it for the Marie Gallant.
Captain Pellew had put a good face on it. “Keep a sharp look-out, all of you.” He said. “They may have abandoned ship. We may find them yet.” Captains said such things, Archie knew. They said them so that the dead boys didn't spoil their sleep.
In the three days since, Archie had found the hell he was sure he deserved. Hell was scanning the empty round of the horizon until his eyes ached. Hell was the clench of his empty gut, for he could not eat. It was having to pretend to do gun-drill, or school-work, or simply to walk or speak, when he wanted to scream. None of it mattered any more.
God had given Archie love. Given him Horatio, to show Archie the life he might have had. Hooked him like a fish, and now.. Fair punishment for his sins. A few more days, and he would find a way to die. Easy enough, really. And whatever awaited him as a suicide, it would be no worse than he deserved. No worse than this.
The change in him was visible. He knew because the other midshipmen tried to comfort him. Cleveland saved him a place at table, tried to get him to eat. Cadogan brought the kitten to sit in his hammock. It was all Archie could do not to shriek at them, not to strike them.
It had been three days now since the flotsam. Six days since he let Horatio go. Archie was sitting listlessly in the shadow of the rail. He had a book by his side, unopened. He had curled around the pain, as he had used to do. It was so big inside him, pressing against his skin from the inside. But he could not take refuge outside his own body now. He was denied even that.
He had his face down on his knees. I can't see you. Don't look at me. Just thus did a wild animal hide injury. It was all Archie had left.
So when the sound came, it was the sound of a lost past. He heard a roar, like great surf in the distant night. Archie knew that sound. It was the sound of Drury lane. It was the sound of men on their feet, shrieking in joy, as their souls soared. The sound, the sound, when the curtain dropped.
He scrambled to his numb feet. There in the distance, was a shabby jolly-boat. It was overcrowded, low in the water. The men rowing were tired smudges in the distance. He dared not hope.
“Its him! Its him, Arch! Look, look!”
Cleveland pressed the spyglass on him, and then, as Archie was trying to focus it, grasped him by the waist and whirled him in a giddy circle.
“He's alive. Horatio's alive!” Cleveland was smiling dancing. “Look, look with the glass!”
Then Archie focused the glass, and it was Horatio. And God had spared Archie, in his mercy. And Pellew was saying something, but his voice was indistinct. Something in Archie was sagging, some inner part of him had been braced rigid for days, and now it collapsed like a luffing sail.
Horatio left the jolly-boat last, of course. First the French prisoners, then the men of his own division. They were boasting and laughing, “Fish for it, said he.” Matthews swaggered. But Archie only heard the surf roaring in his ears. He was very careful to feel nothing at all, until Horatio set foot on the Indy.
The sound of the boatswains whistle, did something strange and half forgotten to Archie's throat. It felt like being very young, it felt like gazing into a fire until the heat burned his eyes. Horatio swarmed aboard, sunburned and tired, rumpled and smiling shyly. He came forward, and the men surged forward to touch him. Archie was waiting, shaking with joy, and he did not care who saw. Horatio came to him first, grasped his arms, and pulled him close. It looked like nothing improper. But Horatio's voice was in Archie's ear, buzzing, intimate, beloved.
“Sail locker, half an hour.” He said. He quirked an eyebrow. It was a request. Archie nodded, and Horatio was whirled away to Pellew.
It was not half an hour. It was hardly any time at all. Archie sat on a roll of sail, sat because his knees had gone to water, and he sat in the dark, because he had forgotten to bring a light. He could feel the dry of his mouth, and the trembling of his hands. It seemed like the beginning of the world. His heart jumped, when the door opened.
“I couldn't wait.” Horatio said. “I'm dirty and I smell bad, and I haven't brushed my tee--” That is where Archie stopped his mouth.
Archie's face was dry. But he was whimpering, and his breath was sobbing. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't stop. This was not the bodies desire. That would come, but not yet. This was being crushed in Horatio's arms, and crushing him close in return. This was pushing his face into the neck and hair, not kissing not really, just wanting to taste and smell so his lonely body could believe.
“I thought-- thought you were dead.”
“Oh God, Archie.”
“You left and I never said – and I thought you'd died, and I – and it was my fault.”
“Shh, no. No. Never, never that.”
Horatio's face was wet with tears, and Archie could feel the thin chest shaking. Horatio's hair was stiff with salt. He smelled of sweat, and wet wool, and Archie could feel his bones. How had he lost so much weight, in only a week?
“Honeybee. Oh my Honeybee.”
“Archie. I love you so.”
They were on to real kissing now, deep and soft, over and over. There was no light in the sail locker at all, but Archie knew he had closed his eyes, anyway. His gentle thumbs told him that Horatio was doing the same.
“Its like a dream. Horatio, I'm so afraid I'll wake up.”
“Its real, real real...Can touch you. Real.”
“Touch me then.” And Horatio did, he slid his hands to find skin, hands against Archie's chest, flat against the throb of his heart.
Kissing again, because they could not, need not, stop. Archie was touching Horatio's face, finding the eyebrows, the temples, the curved bone of his cheeks.
“Please, please Archie.”
“Give you everything.” He was speaking against Horatio's mouth, the words felt, caught between their lapping tongues. He had said those words, once before, and he had failed. . He would do better now. He would. Because-- oh.
Horatio had peeled his shirt back, Archie spent a moment trapped in his cuff buttons, because they had both forgotten them. He broke them off and let the shirt fall. Horatio's hands were warm on his chest, caressing. Archie's head fell back, against the bulkhead, he was dizzy now with pleasure. The pleasure of the body had come, and would not be denied.
Horatio's mouth and hands, on his belly now. Horatio on his knees, and Archie would not have asked for it, but he wanted it so. Horatio's clever hands, undoing the buttons now, pushing the cloth away from the rigid strain of Archie. So good, so good. That alone almost sent him over.
“Slowly'” Archie gasped. The heat of Horatio's mouth, drove him up, shaking shuddering. It was too fast. He could not slow it. He heard himself cry out, wordless, lost.
Archie breathed a moment. He let his hands cradle Horatio's face, his thumbs swept the sharp cheek-bones, gently, over the sun-burn there. Under his palm, and least fingers he could feel a new soft floss. Horatio had not shaved in a week.
He got his trousers up and sagged to his own knees. They were pressed close now, kissing harder, fiercer. Horatio's cock was a hard tower under Archie's encircling hand. Horatio gave a gasp of tight agony, and the hot spray splashed them both.
“Oh Archie, that was so--”
“Yes.” Horatio slumped against Archie, burrowing against his shoulder, like a tired child. Archie could feel every bone in his back. Horatio was shivering slightly now, as he sometimes did afterward. Archie began to gently bundle Horatio back into his clothes. He held him close, as he did so, sharing the heat of his own body as long as he could.
“I'm so tired, Archie.”
“Lets get back to berthing. You can sleep.”
“Will you stay with me?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I'm not on the watch-bill today. Will you wake me, before you go on watch?” Horatio asked. He sounded a little sheepish. “I don't, I don't want to wake up and find you gone.”
And this made only the most backward kind of sense, because Archie was the one who had been left. But he knew that pain now, knew it for the hell it was.
“I will let you know.” He said. “I won't leave without telling you first.”