Title: The Cold Sea of Kindness
Rating R for Smut
Word Count 1671
The Cold Sea of Kindness
He had been watching William Bush. He had, he supposed, a particular interest in the man. Watching was easy-- the fellow was not alert to such a thing, unaware of a steady gaze and the mind that drove it. Bush was a competent sailor, at least once he could stand without coughing. Yet he seemed puzzled by the workings of a happy ship. That told a story, of its own. Bush did not speak of the mutiny, and because this was a happy ship, nobody asked. He was treated with rough kindness by the ratings, with ginger care by the old men. Archie just watched.
The man had been set adrift, naked, in a February sea. Clearly he had been expected to die. Archie had interfered there. This did not absolve Bush. Now, returned fully to life, the man was learning something ugly, learning it right well, and in the bitter isolation that the lesson required. He was burning, shriveling. There was no way to brace when everyone was kind. Better that they should strike you, mock you. Alone in a cold sea of gentle kindness, William Bush was learning shame.
And Archie knew all about shame.
It dwelt in Archie coiled, always. It was ready to strike him upon the least agitation. And he found Bush agitating. Archie knew that he was watched, as well. A ship was a small world. He knew that his agitation, if not its proximate cause, was noticed.
The old men watched. He found that the mild blue gaze of Mr Bracegirdle rested upon him especially often. He had to tolerate that.
And Horatio. Of course Horatio knew most things. Not all. Horatio had been in the cockpit on Justinian. Not as long as Archie, but long enough. He remembered Simpson. Horatio loved Archie anyway. That had gone a great long way toward healing things. But Horatio did not know the way an old shame could be reawakened. He did not know how venom ate into a man. He did not know much at all about Archie's time in Biche. Archie had been expected to die. Many others had, under the boot, the lash, alone in the dark. It was Archie's great sin that he had not. Horatio did not understand that, not at all. Archie thanked God in his prayers that Horatio did not.
The men of Archie's division watched carefully too. Even on a happy ship attentions to an officers mood might save them a beating or worse. They had done well today. They were damn good at their work. He told them this, and felt their pride. He could give them that at least.
Then, dirty, and tired, he had climbed up the ladder. The dog-watch in winter was no time to sport on deck. Most men spent it reading, or writing, in winter, or doing handwork, rope-yarn and such. He had letters home to write.
This was February, his birthday month. His mother had sent him long letter. She told him again, as she had before, how he had come to the family in the month of dark and cold. Her spring lamb, her ram lamb. Her last boy. Archie's father had not sent any word, but he had sent money. Heavy coins for urgent uses, and a fat bank draft as well. The money was a rebuke. Still it had uses. Archie put it aside.
His sister Anne had sent Archie a block of splendid soap. Special soap, it was the soap of the London house. The soap they used in Scotland had a different smell, and it was smaller, softer. But the gift of this was memory, of childhood baths, before the nursery fire. He had kept it, some weeks now, wrapped in paper, in his sea-chest. Archie was 22, this month. He had been eight years in the Navy. Eight years since his exile began, and still the smell of that soap burned his throat with tears.
Better to use it, then. Archie stopped to blink in the daylight of the deck. He scrubbed his nose absently with the back of his hand. An idea occurred. He headed forward, to the galley.
And he and Horatio certainly needed washing. Archie, in particular, was caked with sweat and black powder.
Horatio was delighted with the promise of hot water. His long mobile mouth curled into a smile. Still, being Horatio, he tried to protest, anyway.
“Archie, your special soap? We shouldn't--”
Archie reached out to silence him. The boys would knock, when they came with the buckets. A kiss was safe enough.
Horatio's mouth was so soft, and it opened under Archie's own, and Horatio's hands drew him close, warm, and he stroked down Archie's back, his hair, his face. Skin had a hunger of its own, quite apart from an aching heart, or an aching cock. At any rate, all three ached now, and he and Horatio both had to find a reason to casually face the wall when the boys came with the buckets.
Archie poured water into the washbasin, made all ready. Horatio nodded and began to undo his coat buttons.
“No-- let me?”
He could see that Horatio's cheeks were flushed, his breath rapid. Horatio lowered his hands. The buttons took no time, but it was pleasant to do them slowly, to celebrate, if only for himself, the skin beneath. He kissed the dear mouth again, shallow and quick. A promise only. He pushed the woolen weight of the jacket and waistcoat back and away. It fell to the deck with a soft thump. Horatio stood,, smiling, in shirt and breeches. His hands were flexing, wiggling. His mouth was open. Archie reached down for the tiny buttons of the fall. He let the back of his hand ghost over the tip of the rigid push there, watched to see Horatio gasp just a little.
He said that, or something equally foolish. The breeches went. The shirt went. Horatio was naked and Archie had to embrace him. Another moment, only, and Archie was as bare. They were pressed close, warming each other, everything warm and liable to rub deliciously if they only--
Archie stepped back.
“Bath,” He said
The hot water, and the scent of the soap, and the cloth in his hand. He could see where soot and powder had seeped around the edges of Horatio's clothing. He worked the cloth slow and careful over cheeks and nose and chin. Horatio stood for it, but he wrinkled his long nose, as if the soap troubled him.
Over the chin now, and down over the neck, here the pulses beat, quick quick under the skin. If he kissed just there, just now, Horatio would make that very particular sound which was both whine and growl. It would subvert the bath entirely. Archie could wait.
He soaped the cloth again, it was thick and hot in his hand. He worked it down over Horatio's chest-- Horatio was slender there, but it was all hard strength. His skin was white, where the sun so rarely reached. It was paler than Archie's palest parts, silver to Archie's gold.
Belly now. Horatio's hips bucked forward trying for contact. Archie drew the cloth to the side, down over the dip and curve of hipbones.
“Are you not going to wash my--”
“In a little while.”
Horatio did growl then.
Archie shivered to hear it. But he was not going to waste a moment of this. He sank to his knees. He knew Horatio's body utterly, the touch of it, the sounds of it, the taste. In some ways he knew it better than his own. He had never been eye level with his own cock, for example.
Horatio's, at eye level was a beloved thing. And beautiful. The soft skin stretched over the hard underneath, like deer velvet. He drew a single finger along it, lest it feel forgotten. Horatio tilted forward, faster now.
Legs and knees now, warm water and sweet soap.
“All right, I will.”
He put the cloth into the washbasin, pushed it out of the way. He drew his hand up, gently, the outside of Horatio's thigh. Horatio was thrusting now, tight short movements that Archie did not think he was aware of making. His fingers were curled, he had his lip in his teeth.
Archie took him by the hips and held him still.
“Now Horatio,” he said, and he let his mouth open and lower.
Archie had always loved this. He loved the tight strength of Horatio moving against him, The soft hair against the side of his guiding hand, the slide against his cupped tongue, the shuddering gasp away above his head. Words of love came up inside Archie, foolish words he did not say any other time, and which he could not say now, not with his mouth full. He imagined them soaking into Horatio's skin like dye, to be carried always in his blood.
The shudders were loosening now, shivers tipping the apex of each. Soon.
And now the rush under the skin, under his fingers, like an underground river. Away above, Horatio was saying something. His voice was low and frantic, his hand tightened on Archie's shoulder. The spill came.
He stood and drew Horatio into his arms. He loved this too, the tiny shivers after which rippled over them. Horatio's skin was warm and damp. He smelled of soap, and the salty taste that was in Archie's mouth now too.
There was still time. Time to lie together on the deck, with the blankets around them, time to bring Archie to the same shuddering state.
Time for the two of them to make a single flame, warmer than kindness, or justice, or words, a lick of heat in a cold sea.