Title: In the Dogwatch
Rating R for smut
Word Count 1683
In the Dogwatch
He had hoped it was behind Archie for good. But this was the third night this week. He was accustomed to the sound of Archie startling awake, with a gasp, and then composing himself to rest again. Not nightmares-- not stated so, maybe not felt so. But he did not need the light to know the grim joyless force which Archie used to get back to sleep. Horatio did not mention it-- Archie would not grant such things the power of memory or description.
Tonight was worse though. The voice from the hammock, less than a foot away, was low, too quiet for Horatio catch the strange and slippery words. Four or five words, repeated over and over, strained and agonized. Horatio could hear Archie's head turning, scraping against the thin canvas pillow. Over and over, he said the same thing, in hopeless misery. Sleepy himself, Horatio did not understand. Then, with a prickle of horror, he got it. Archie was speaking French.
He could feel his skin crawling. Make it stop. But before he had time to reach across he heard Archie gave a long sigh. Then he turned over with a sort of snuffle, and he subsided to quieter sleep. So, better not to wake him. Archie slept on, quietly until morning. Horatio lay awake a long time.
The new day did come of course. Horatio was leaden with fatigue. He hated morning anyway. He dressed, as always, with clumsy gloom, and he stumbled toward the promise of coffee. Archie was his usual animated self. Each dawn found him clever and deft, and chirping like a damn songbird. So it was better not to ask. It was far better to let the fears of the night recede unmentioned. Maybe Archie did not even remember.
It had been worse since the rescue-- since the new man came. Bush.
It was not right to blame or dislike Bush. Archie did not. And the fellow made himself easy to avoid. He seemed to have no interest in making friends. He was very quiet. He had been ill, also, after being fished from the sea. That made it easy. Eventually there would be a trial. Until then nobody on the Indy knew quite what to make of him. There were always tasks to do, of course. The old men found things for Mr Bush to do-- working parties to direct. He was competent, that much was clear.
Horatio had watched as Archie and most of the rest of the Indy had made the effort to be kind. It was not right to blame William Bush-- but somehow Horatio did.
This day, after the broken night, was especially long. They had worked the great guns all afternoon. Usually Horatio enjoyed that. But by dog-watch he was hungry. His head ached. His dirty skin itched. He was going to have to wash this shirt tonight. It stank of sweat to an unacceptable degree, And the cuffs were gray. So he would wash it, yes, and it would still be limp and gray. And still be damp in the morning. Maybe he would get bronchitis like William Bush.
He had a few hours to himself. Sleep. Yes, sleep maybe.
Here he was at his little wooden door. He pushed it open.
Archie was sitting on his sea-chest, facing the little desk. The neck of his shirt was gray with powder and sweat, too. Somehow it did not look as bad on Archie. Horatio could see that he had been adding to his letter home. Now he reached for the sand shaker.
“I was waiting for you--” Archie said. His voice was hoarse from smoke and shouting. But he smiled. He had a big smudge of soot across the top of his nose.
“I have a surprise for you, Horatio.”
“We have two nice buckets of hot water coming. And I have that soap that Anne sent me. I thought you might like--”
“That's-- how did you arrange that?”
Horatio felt himself smiling. It felt strange. Only Archie, could arrange such a treat. Hot water, at midday! It was an astonishing luxury. The galley was a busy place, and there was no time to be boiling up hot water for water for just anyone who wanted a wash.
“Oh, cook owed me a favor.” Charming the galley was something Archie put habitual effort into. It paid off.
“How long did you promise him your rum?”
“All next week-- but it will be so worth it. Hot water, Horatio. We can wash-- really wash. I want to wash you.” His eyes were dark. He stood up, pushing the sea- chest back under the desk with his foot.
“I want to wash you too.” Horatio said.
Archie's hand was rough and solid, smaller than his own, black with the dirt of the day. Horatio turned it in his own to kiss the bitter, powder tasting palm.
The water came then, steaming, three buckets of it. Wooden covers held the heat in. Horatio shivered, it was going to be delicious.
Archie poured off some water into the washbasin. He had the soap ready too. This was his special birthday soap, from his sister. It was the best soap Horatio had ever seen. It was nearly as big as a brick, dense and hard and luminous. Most importantly it seemed willing to foam in salt water. It smelled complicated. Horatio suspected he and his father could eat for a week on what it had cost.
He stepped out of his shoes, reached for his jacket buttons. Archie was locking the door. They had two hours.
Archie caught his hand, before the second button slipped. “Let me,” he said. And Horatio let him. Each button slid loose with a tiny pop, until Archie could reach beneath the jacket and waistcoat and push them back and away. The weight of the wool slid to the deck. Mute, Horatio held out his shirt cuffs. The air was cool, and he shivered as Archie lifted the shirt free. Trousers and stockings went as well, trodden under foot, kicked away. Archie stepped close, and drew him into the warm circle of his arms.
His hand stroked down, over the skin of Horatio's back.
But Horatio had his hand between them, fumbling Archie's buttons loose too. It took a moment only to drop Archie's clothes away too.
The first touch of naked skin was something Horatio loved especially. But as he reached again to embrace, Archie took one step back. “Bath.” He said, and his voice was gruff and breathless.
Horatio shut his eyes, docile, he could be patient, just. The moment swelled. He drew a long breath. He heard the gentle sound of the water moving as Archie dipped the cloth and the soap
It came to the hollow of his throat. He lifted his chin to give it room. It drew the wings of his collar bone, moved heat down the center of his breastbone. Archie's kiss followed. His mouth was soft. Archie murmured something that slid by like the sound of the soap and the water, delicious. The cloth was warm and gently abrasive-- circling Horatio's abdomen now, finding the boney curl of his hips.
Horatio's eyes were still shut. He could feel more clearly, so. Archie was kneeling before him, and Horatio felt every breath Archie took, felt the shapes of him, the heat. The cloth went away, and the water gently plashed. It came back hotter, and foaming with soap.
He had thought-- but no the cloth was at his legs now, below the rigid need. He did not have to open his eyes to feel Archie smiling.
“But my knees are clean,” he whispered.
“Your knees are disgraceful.”
This kiss was longer, just above the round push of patella. One knee, then the other. Back, front, with the soft hot cloth.
“There-- that's better now. ”
The washbasin rattled, and the water splashed. He could hear that, and it mattered not at all. Archie, kneeling before him, had put washing aside. A soft bite to the thigh, and Archie's hair tickling the damp skin. Archie's two hands warm and rough steadying Horatio's hips. Holding his hips now, because Horatio was pushing them forward now, forward and forward now, gentle as he could bear to be.
“Shh. Honeybee, I am right where I wish to be.”
And now the hands were holding, so. And the world was small behind his eyelids, and it was only the heat, the heat of the perfect hand, around the heavy ache of him. The heat of Archie's mouth-- and he did not need to see, but he forced his eyes open to look, and Archie's cheeks were flushed, and his tongue flicked, brief, to wet his mouth. And now the mouth soft, and the hand rough, together, and Horatio's eyes had to shut.
It was drawing him forward, his hips pushing, gentle as he could bear to be. But the pleasure was big and hot, and He was moving toward it, and he had to tell.
“I have to-- Archie, oh--”
Archie's grip tightened, and Horatio had time to hear his wordless growl of assent. There was time for that, before it broke over him, and he was shuddering, gasping.
The light in the room had moved. The canvas walls were lemon and slants of sooty shadow. Archie, naked, rocked back, to sit on his heels. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled. Horatio could see his chest heaving, as he caught his breath.
Archie was pulling the blankets down to the deck, his eyes were dark and wide-- Horatio drew him close, and the good heat burned between them. There would be time for bathing later, soon enough. They had an hour and a half.