eglantine_br (eglantine_br) wrote,
eglantine_br
eglantine_br

 

 

 

 

Prelude: The first day

 

The boy was pale, and sheened with sweat. His eyes rolled, white edged, in the dim below decks.

“Just rest easy, until you feel yourself again.” Clayton said.

Such nervous hands he had, clenching and twisting. Clayton had the strangest urge, to hold them, calm them with his own. “17, Sir.” This boy could be his son.

 

The third day

“There now-- release this hand.” Clayton's voice burred in his rain-filled ear. “I know. It hurts more to unfold it, sometimes. Step back now, Mr Hornblower. I've got you steady.” Horatio's numb feet fumbled to the deck. He subsided against Clayton's shoulder, it was solid, and kind, and smelled of damp wool.

“How long were you up there child?”

“S-six hours, sir.”

Clayton snorted. “No need to Sir me, Mr Hornblower. We are both mis-fortunate midshipmen, although I am old enough to be your father.”

“Cleveland said I was too old.”

“Well,” said Clayton, propelling him down the passageway, “You seem young enough to me.”

Clayton's voice was wry, and somehow self-mocking, but his gray eyes, Horatio saw, were very kind.

“Get into something dry, Mr Hornblower, and sling your hammock for a while. You have the next watch.”

Horatio rolled carefully into the hammock. Clayton's spot was empty, on one side of him, and Kennedy was nowhere to be seen, so Horatio was able to revel in three times his alloted 14 inches. His muscles sang painfully, as he began to relax, even his eyelids seemed to jump and twitch. He felt a baffled interest in this, and then his thoughts went stupid, and sleep sucked him down.

He woke sometime later, to find both hammocks occupied.

“Archie-” Horatio put a hand on Kennedy's shoulder, “Time for watch.”

To his shock, Archie responded with a hiss, wrenching away from the contact. “I know, I'll-- I'll be there presently.” He had pushed Horatio's hand away

“All right.” Hornblower climbed the ladder to the deck, feeling obscurely hurt.

The watch was turned over without incident. Spithead was quiet after all.

Usually Horatio looked forward to the watches that he shared with Archie. They seemed to get each other laughing every time, and the four hours passed quickly.

Tonight was different. Archie was civil, formal, cool. He stood in the shadows. He seemed strangely subdued. Horatio didn't know how to push the silence down. It rose between them, a bloated and horrid thing. Horatio had the strangest feeling that he had somehow offended Archie Kennedy. He didn't know how he had done it, but he clawed at his heart bitterly even so.

The sky was beginning to lighten, when Clayton and Hether came up to relieve them.

Something-- Horatio had to say something, even if he offended, the sweetness of the friendship was more than he could bear to loose.

“Mr Kennedy?” His voice squeaked. Not a good start. He tried again. “Umm, Archie?”

“Yes, Horatio?” Barely concealed impatience.

“Did I offend you somehow? Anger you?”

“No.”

The single syllable did sound angry, and somehow bitterly lonely. It did not seem right from the mouth of the Archie he thought he was getting to know. Whatever Horatio had done, it seemed that his friendship with Archie might be over before it had even really begun.

“All right, I'll see you tomorrow.” Head down, Horatio slumped away.

He could feel Clayton's eyes on him too. Clayton seemed to see everything.

Horatio had just gained his hammock when Archie came in. His walk was slow, and still strangely rigid. His face was closed.

“Horatio,” he said, and his voice was soft, “meet me in the forward sail locker in 10 minutes. There is something you need to see.” He swung away, and was gone in the gloom before Horatio could even answer.

Horatio hurried to the sail locker. He hesitated a moment, and opened the door.

The small room, was awash with light. Two dips, and a large lantern had been placed with care. Archie Kennedy knew all about stage lights, and he had lit this stage with particular care. Shirtless, Kennedy stood in the heart of the light, far from the wavering shadows.

“Clayton said to trust you.” Archie said. His chin was up, and his voice was harsh and cold. “On his head be it.”

Now Horatio was stepping forward, his eyes adjusting, squinting, seeing, not wanting to see. One hand faltered out toward Archie, and failed before the glassy blue eyes.

Kennedy's torso was mottled, blue yellow, purple, bruises, fading, overlaid by new ones, of inky black. Nothing was visible of the white skin he ought to have had there. The smearing colors faded into each other, over shoulders, upper arms, belly. Overlaying the poor bruised flesh was a relief map of burns, welts and scratches.

Archie turned his head toward Horatio, still did not meet his eye. “Simpson beat you a little yesterday. I have to say, you took it well. But I don't recommend resisting him. This is what I am to him. This is what I am here, Horatio. Do you still wish to be my friend?”

Horatio sank to his knees. His mouth opened soundless, his face was wet. The voice that he felt emerge from his throat was alien to him.

“I am going to kill him. I'll kill him for this.”

 

When he looked up again, Archie was sitting on a heap of folded sail-cloth.

“I must have hurt you, shaking your shoulder to wake you up. And you were awake anyway, too. I'm sorry I touched you when you didn't wish me to. I won't do it again. Only, stay my friend. I've never had a friend like you.” Horatio felt himself babbling, but he couldn't seem to stop. And he was sobbing. Brave bruised Archie must think him a fool.

“I am your friend, Horatio.” Archie said. “I wouldn't have shown you, else.”

Horatio knee-walked closer. He gulped a little.

“I think he may have broken your ribs, Archie” Does it hurt to breathe?

Archie gave a wheezing chuckle. “It hurts to laugh, Mr Hornblower.”

“The ribs should be strapped, wrapped up tight. If we support them they'll hurt less.”

Horatio found a length of scrap sail-cloth.

“Do you think this will be missed?”

“On the Justinian? Hardly.”

“Well then, let me wrap this around you. Can you lift your arms?”

He worked the cloth around carefully, aware of each hitched breath, of Archie holding still as a statue, of Archie's savagely bitten lip. Horatio remembered the look. As a child, Horatio had brought home injured creatures, for his father to heal. John Hornblower had tried, and most often he had failed. Horatio remembered crying bitterly over a sea-gull that died.

“I had better limit my practice to people, Horatio.” His father had said. “Its hard to help them, when they won't say where the hurts are.”

Archie was as stoic as a wild animal.

“Lift that arm again for me, I'm worried about your clavicle.”

“What's a clavicle?”

“Just – here.” Horatio's finger described in the air, didn't touch.

Archie gave another mirthless laugh. “Do you know a lot of medical terms, Mr Hornblower? Bones, and sinews, and such?”

“I suppose I do. My father was a doctor, you see”

“Useful”

“What about your father Archie?”

“Definitely not useful.”

“Now that I think of it,” Horatio said, “bones, and muscles have their own names, in the same way that sails and ropes do.”

“Hmm,” Archie shifted slightly forward. “Teach me some.”

“Well,” Horatio reached out a careful finger, and traced with it this time.”This is the clavicle. Another one here. Bruised I think but not broken. That is good.

“Axilla here. Don't laugh Archie you'll hurt your ribs. Another one here of course.” Horatio's hands were more confident now. “He really got you here. Makes sense. Lots of blood there, going down to your arm. Makes the bruising worse.”

“Oh.”

Horatio found that he could not meet Archie's gaze, even through he had missed it terribly. He could only watch his own hands, hands which could not heal, but could only witness, could only learn the outrages on Archie's skin.

“So, here is the sternum, where the ribs join. See, you knew that.”

“Didn't know what it was called.”

Horatio slid his hand over Archie's abdomen. No way to help if something went wrong in there. Archie, had leaned his head back, his eyes were shut. His breathing, to Horatio, seemed rapid and shallow.

“How many bones do we have in all?”

“Depends on how old you are. About 200, anyway.”

“Ah”

“You have 15 in just your face. Why don't you lie down, Archie, and try to rest a little?”

“Teach me more bones. Teach me the bones of the face.”

“All right. But you shut your eyes and rest. See, here, these are your orbits.” he pushed back Archie's hair. His hand stroked slowly teaching, learning. “Temporal bone“Zygomatic arch, mandible.... He didn't touch your face”

“No, he doesn't, not with me.” Archies voice was soft and sleepy. “He's careful, you see. He can do … more if he doesn't mark me where it shows.” Horatio had thought his heart fully broken now, but the matter of fact tone was worse than anything yet.

“I'm going to kill him Archie. I'll see him dead for this.”

But Archie was asleep.

 

 

Prelude: The first day

 

The boy was pale, and sheened with sweat. His eyes rolled, white edged, in the dim below decks.

“Just rest easy, until you feel yourself again.” Clayton said.

Such nervous hands he had, clenching and twisting. Clayton had the strangest urge, to hold them, calm them with his own. “17, Sir.” This boy could be his son.

 

T

he third day

“There now-- release this hand.” Clayton's voice burred in his rain-filled ear. “I know. It hurts more to unfold it, sometimes. Step back now, Mr Hornblower. I've got you steady.” Horatio's numb feet fumbled to the deck. He subsided against Clayton's shoulder, it was solid, and kind, and smelled of damp wool.

“How long were you up there child?”

“S-six hours, sir.”

Clayton snorted. “No need to Sir me, Mr Hornblower. We are both mis-fortunate midshipmen, although I am old enough to be your father.”

“Cleveland said I was too old.”

“Well,” said Clayton, propelling him down the passageway, “You seem young enough to me.”

Clayton's voice was wry, and somehow self-mocking, but his gray eyes, Horatio saw, were very kind.

“Get into something dry, Mr Hornblower, and sling your hammock for a while. You have the next watch.”

Horatio rolled carefully into the hammock. Clayton's spot was empty, on one side of him, and Kennedy was nowhere to be seen, so Horatio was able to revel in three times his alloted 14 inches. His muscles sang painfully, as he began to relax, even his eyelids seemed to jump and twitch. He felt a baffled interest in this, and then his thoughts went stupid, and sleep sucked him down.

He woke sometime later, to find both hammocks occupied.

“Archie-” Horatio put a hand on Kennedy's shoulder, “Time for watch.”

To his shock, Archie responded with a hiss, wrenching away from the contact. “I know, I'll-- I'll be there presently.” He had pushed Horatio's hand away

“All right.” Hornblower climbed the ladder to the deck, feeling obscurely hurt.

The watch was turned over without incident. Spithead was quiet after all.

Usually Horatio looked forward to the watches that he shared with Archie. They seemed to get each other laughing every time, and the four hours passed quickly.

Tonight was different. Archie was civil, formal, cool. He stood in the shadows. He seemed strangely subdued. Horatio didn't know how to push the silence down. It rose between them, a bloated and horrid thing. Horatio had the strangest feeling that he had somehow offended Archie Kennedy. He didn't know how he had done it, but he clawed at his heart bitterly even so.

The sky was beginning to lighten, when Clayton and Hether came up to relieve them.

Something-- Horatio had to say something, even if he offended, the sweetness of the friendship was more than he could bear to loose.

“Mr Kennedy?” His voice squeaked. Not a good start. He tried again. “Umm, Archie?”

“Yes, Horatio?” Barely concealed impatience.

“Did I offend you somehow? Anger you?”

“No.”

The single syllable did sound angry, and somehow bitterly lonely. It did not seem right from the mouth of the Archie he thought he was getting to know. Whatever Horatio had done, it seemed that his friendship with Archie might be over before it had even really begun.

“All right, I'll see you tomorrow.” Head down, Horatio slumped away.

He could feel Clayton's eyes on him too. Clayton seemed to see everything.

Horatio had just gained his hammock when Archie came in. His walk was slow, and still strangely rigid. His face was closed.

“Horatio,” he said, and his voice was soft, “meet me in the forward sail locker in 10 minutes. There is something you need to see.” He swung away, and was gone in the gloom before Horatio could even answer.

Horatio hurried to the sail locker. He hesitated a moment, and opened the door.

The small room, was awash with light. Two dips, and a large lantern had been placed with care. Archie Kennedy knew all about stage lights, and he had lit this stage with particular care. Shirtless, Kennedy stood in the heart of the light, far from the wavering shadows.

“Clayton said to trust you.” Archie said. His chin was up, and his voice was harsh and cold. “On his head be it.”

Now Horatio was stepping forward, his eyes adjusting, squinting, seeing, not wanting to see. One hand faltered out toward Archie, and failed before the glassy blue eyes.

Kennedy's torso was mottled, blue yellow, purple, bruises, fading, overlaid by new ones, of inky black. Nothing was visible of the white skin he ought to have had there. The smearing colors faded into each other, over shoulders, upper arms, belly. Overlaying the poor bruised flesh was a relief map of burns, welts and scratches.

Archie turned his head toward Horatio, still did not meet his eye. “Simpson beat you a little yesterday. I have to say, you took it well. But I don't recommend resisting him. This is what I am to him. This is what I am here, Horatio. Do you still wish to be my friend?”

Horatio sank to his knees. His mouth opened soundless, his face was wet. The voice that he felt emerge from his throat was alien to him.

“I am going to kill him. I'll kill him for this.”

 

When he looked up again, Archie was sitting on a heap of folded sail-cloth.

“I must have hurt you, shaking your shoulder to wake you up. And you were awake anyway, too. I'm sorry I touched you when you didn't wish me to. I won't do it again. Only, stay my friend. I've never had a friend like you.” Horatio felt himself babbling, but he couldn't seem to stop. And he was sobbing. Brave bruised Archie must think him a fool.

“I am your friend, Horatio.” Archie said. “I wouldn't have shown you, else.”

Horatio knee-walked closer. He gulped a little.

 

“I think he may have broken your ribs, Archie” Does it hurt to breathe?

Archie gave a wheezing chuckle. “It hurts to laugh, Mr Hornblower.”

“The ribs should be strapped, wrapped up tight. If we support them they'll hurt less.”

Horatio found a length of scrap sail-cloth.

“Do you think this will be missed?”

“On the Justinian? Hardly.”

“Well then, let me wrap this around you. Can you lift your arms?”

He worked the cloth around carefully, aware of each hitched breath, of Archie holding still as a statue, of Archie's savagely bitten lip. Horatio remembered the look. As a child, Horatio had brought home injured creatures, for his father to heal. John Hornblower had tried, and most often he had failed. Horatio remembered crying bitterly over a sea-gull that died.

“I had better limit my practice to people, Horatio.” His father had said. “Its hard to help them, when they won't say where the hurts are.”

Archie was as stoic as a wild animal.

“Lift that arm again for me, I'm worried about your clavicle.”

“What's a clavicle?”

“Just – here.” Horatio's finger described in the air, didn't touch.

Archie gave another mirthless laugh. “Do you know a lot of medical terms, Mr Hornblower? Bones, and sinews, and such?”

“I suppose I do. My father was a doctor, you see”

“Useful”

“What about your father Archie?”

“Definitely not useful.”

“Now that I think of it,” Horatio said, “bones, and muscles have their own names, in the same way that sails and ropes do.”

“Hmm,” Archie shifted slightly forward. “Teach me some.”

“Well,” Horatio reached out a careful finger, and traced with it this time.”This is the clavicle. Another one here. Bruised I think but not broken. That is good.

“Axilla here. Don't laugh Archie you'll hurt your ribs. Another one here of course.” Horatio's hands were more confident now. “He really got you here. Makes sense. Lots of blood there, going down to your arm. Makes the bruising worse.”

“Oh.”

Horatio found that he could not meet Archie's gaze, even through he had missed it terribly. He could only watch his own hands, hands which could not heal, but could only witness, could only learn the outrages on Archie's skin.

“So, here is the sternum, where the ribs join. See, you knew that.”

“Didn't know what it was called.”

Horatio slid his hand over Archie's abdomen. No way to help if something went wrong in there. Archie, had leaned his head back, his eyes were shut. His breathing, to Horatio, seemed rapid and shallow.

“How many bones do we have in all?”

“Depends on how old you are. About 200, anyway.”

“Ah”

“You have 15 in just your face. Why don't you lie down, Archie, and try to rest a little?”

“Teach me more bones. Teach me the bones of the face.”

“All right. But you shut your eyes and rest. See, here, these are your orbits.” he pushed back Archie's hair. His hand stroked slowly teaching, learning. “Temporal bone“Zygomatic arch, mandible.... He didn't touch your face”

“No, he doesn't, not with me.” Archies voice was soft and sleepy. “He's careful, you see. He can do … more if he doesn't mark me where it shows.” Horatio had thought his heart fully broken now, but the matter of fact tone was worse than anything yet.

“I'm going to kill him Archie. I'll see him dead for this.”

But Archie was asleep.

 

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