Title: The Battle
Word Count 1195
Disclaimer Not my boys
Horatio's voice was a childish squeak. His knees were shaking.
“Archie?” He said.
The man in the bed clutched the blanket more tightly, he gave a moan of fright. In the end, it was Mr. Hunter who drew the cloth aside. He touched Archie's brow with a gentle deftness that Horatio remembered all the rest of his long life.
“I don't know who he is, Sir,” Hunter said. “But he's very ill. He's boiling with fever.”
Horatio felt his knees hit the ground. He had not chosen to kneel.
“Mr Hunter, this is Mr. Archie Kennedy. He was lost to us, almost two years ago. We thought he was dead. He is – He is my dearest friend.”
Horatio put his own hand out, to touch Archie. The heat of his skin was dry, unnatural and searing.
Horatio was on his feet then, roaring out, in a quarterdeck voice, loud as he was able.
“Guard – Help! We need someone here now.”
A Spanish guard sauntered over with infuriating slowness. Horatio was thinking fast.
“This cell is occupied already. There is a man in here, sick, obviously contagious!”
“This is his cell.”
“Is there nowhere more suited to treatment of the sick? Somewhere warmer, with a fire?
“We have a sick room upstairs – but no doctor. No one to tend the sick.”
“I will do it. Help me get him there-- he's dying!”
The room at the top of the stairs was indeed small. The walls were white. It had one bed, one chair, a small window, and a fireplace.
It had been far too easy to carry Archie up the stairs. It ought to have been impossible. But when Horatio went to lift him, Archie fainted. Horatio was able to simply gather him close and walk off with him.
Horatio rolled Archie into the bed, and resisted the urge to tuck him in.
“I need cold water, and clothes – towels, rags, old shirts – anything. Quickly!” This was his command voice, and it was obeyed. The guard ran.
Horatio started at the top, ripping the filthy shirt off, tugging away the trousers. He tried not to think of all the times he had undressed Archie in gentle love. This was battle.
“Give me those.” The guard was back, astonished,
“Are you a physician?”
“No,” Horatio's voice was terse. “My father is.”
He took the rags, (they were clean at least,) and soaked them in the freezing water.
“So sorry, Archie.” He muttered.
He set them, frigid and dripping, under Archie's thin arms, over his belly, in the crease of his legs. He saved the two biggest, to bring cold water to the sides of Archie's neck.
Archie batted weakly at the cold intrusion. He was shivering now, rippled with goose-bumps. His eyes were open, but unseeing.
“No, don't,” He said “Nodon't, Mamma.”
“Shh, Archie, its all right, its me, Horatio.”
Horatio could not help speaking, Archie might hear and be comforted, after all, even if he did not later remember.
“You are safe here. You've been ill, but you are getting better now. “
He took one more rag, the softest one, and wiped the cool water over Archie's face. The dirt was resistant, ground into the skin. Horatio was careful not to scrub. There would be time later, if God was kind, for soap bathing. He worked his way down, over the neck, the collar bone stood out, as never before. Archie had gotten so thin. Horatio moved onto the chest, smoothing the water onto Archie, taking the hurting heat away. He worked his way down the arms, the sweet flesh there had shrunk to sinew, Archie's wrist bones stood out. Horatio continued down, over the hammock of belly, slung on the pointed hip-bones, down over the legs, which shook against the cold.
“So sorry, Archie, so, so sorry.” Horatio's own hot tears were dripping down, splashing onto Archie. Horatio knew the fault was his. He had been entrusted with one precious being to love and keep safe, and he had failed. He reached the end, the astonishing ruin of Archie's feet. They were a mass of half healed sores. Sores, over blisters, with scars underneath. He left them, he wrung out the cloth – dirty now, but it didn't matter, he started at the top again.
He had reached the chest again when Archie spoke.
“Horatio? That you?”
“Yes. Hullo Archie.”
“You washing a corpse?”
“What? No! I'm washing you Archie. You've been sick, but you are getting better.” Horatio kept up his damp swabbing, He didn't want Archie to see his fearful tears.
“Are we in hell?”
“No, this is Spain.”
“Oh. Not hell then, hells in France, bitch.” Archie said oddly.
“No need to call names.” Horatio said. But there was no reply. Archie was asleep.
There was still plenty of water, and it was clean. There was a cup, on the bed-table. Every hour, then. Somewhere, a clock chimed, unconcernedly marking the hours of the world of the land. Horatio, lifted Archie's head, and got him to swallow a little water. Then he renewed the wet rags. After 4 hours, Archie seemed cooler. He slept more easily. Horatio pulled a sheet over Archie, and took his hand. The hand felt much the same at least. Horatio could not help pressing a kiss into the palm of it. He and Archie were shut away from the world here, locked in, now that night had come. He lifted the cup to Archie's mouth. Four good swallows this time, better.
Archie's hand was hot in his, but not as bad as before. Horatio allowed himself to doze.
In the gray before dawn, Archie squeezed his hand, and spoke.
“Right here, Archie.” His hand was cooler.
“I need the pot.”
“You seem way too delighted by me needing to piss.”
“Here, lets sit you up.” Horatio levered Archie upright, and reached under the bed. Archie sat, swaying slightly, with his feet on the floor. Horatio held the chamber pot close, and felt the warm weight, as Archie splashed into it. It didn't take long. Horatio heard Archie give a relieved sigh, and got the pot down, just in time to ease him back, and help his legs up. He settled the pillow in place, the sheet, and a blanket this time. Archie was cooler, for sure.
Archie settled back in the bed. He was heavy eyed, but lucid. “So tell me why my urine so enchants you.” He said.
“Because I've been giving you water every hour, all night, and until now you had burned it all away.” Horatio said. He was grinning like a jackanapes. It felt so good to talk to Archie.
“Ah.” Said Archie. “Sleepy now. You can 'splain the rest later.”
“I will.” Said Horatio. “We'll sort it all out.”