Word Count 2374
Disclaimer Not my boys
Fruit and Shouting
He had spent a restless night, in the bedside chair, but he left the room without waking Archie. Archie's sleep was still disturbed enough with ugly dreams. He thrashed himself awake several times each night, waking Horatio too. But in the pale light of this morning, he was serene.
Horatio pulled the blankets up over the shoulders, (still too thin,) he checked the fever, (smoldering now,) and ran a hand over the brightly tumbled hair. There was no need for that, last, but he could not help it. He sneaked out of the room, in his stocking feet, and went down to breakfast.
Hunter was a blunt force man, but he was not without tactical thinking. He waited until Horatio's mouth was full, and then he pounced.
“We cannot wait forever for Mr Kennedy.” He said. “I saw him, I saw enough. He has lost the use of his mind and his legs.”
Horatio swallowed his bread with bruising speed. Hunter was bellicose at the best of times, but since coming to El Ferrol, he was nearly impossible. Horatio allowed his voice to harden, allowed his frustration to load his speech with spikes.
“Mr Kennedy was captured in action. He has survived being a prisoner of war for almost two years. He is a man of great courage, and he has skills we need. We cannot manage without his help. Furthermore, Mr. Hunter, he was a midshipman, on the Indy, just like you. Just like me. We are not leaving without him!”
“Just don't wait too long --- Sir.” Oh, Hunter was impossible.
Left alone, in the cold sunlight, in the silence of his mind, Horatio worried. Archie was growing stronger. But he still seemed confused sometimes. He had not regained the bright curiosity and wit that Horatio knew was natural to him. He had not asked how Horatio came to be in Spain. He had not said anything at all about his own experiences. And he had displayed no reaction at all to the news of Simpson's death. He had received the news with dull eyed acceptance. That was all. And he still dreamed of Simpson. Horatio knew he had been foolish to hope that that pain at least would stop.
Horatio finished his food, without tasting it. He went over to check on the men of his division. They were, at the moment healthy and well fed. Boredom and idleness were going to be a problem before long, Horatio knew, but they were all right for now.
Horatio gathered up food for Archie, as much as he could carry. Although still feverish, Archie was eating every bite he was given. He ate with an astonished damp eyed gratitude that hurt to see. When Horatio could get away with it, he gave Archie his own rations, too.
On this morning, Horatio was carrying water, boiled eggs, oatmeal, bread, and some beef left over from the previous night. It was heavy and awkward. The water splashed down his leg, as he went up the stairs.
Archie was sitting up in bed. He smiled, a real smile, when Horatio came into the room. Horatio smiled himself, to see it.
“Wondered where you went.” He said.
“I brought you some breakfast.” Horatio said. “And I had to check on the division. And Mr Midshipman Hunter.” Horatio let the irritation seep into his voice.
“Plagued by midshipmen are you?” Archie said.
“No, just by Hunter.” Horatio said. “Have an egg.”
He watched Archie eat until the food was all gone, and then poured the water. Archie could hold the cup now, himself. He was getting stronger. That was good. Surely that was good.
Archie settled back in the bed. Horatio gave him a kiss, on the nose. He took Archie's hand, kissed that too. So far, kissing was all they had done. It was something Horatio had missed. He had dreamed of it, remembered it, needed it like air, like water. But kissing made him think of doing more. And he was not sure what Archie was ready for. In his most alone moments, he was not sure what Archie wanted.
Time would tell, he supposed. And at least they had a room together, away from Hunter.
“So you are going to eat,” Horatio said, smiling, “And drink, and rest, and when you are stronger, we will get out of here.”
Archie recoiled. “Out of here?” He said.
“Yes, we must escape.” This seemed self-evident.
Archie looked at him with sullen hostility. “There is no escape. It cannot be done.”
“No escape. None Horatio. I do not want to hear of it.”
“But why, Archie you can't just... just give up. I know you are still ill, but don't you want to stand on the deck of the Indy? Feel the wind, as you used to do?”
“Archie?” Horatio felt his stomach turn. He did not understand how his simple statement had gone so wrong.
“Archie, don't you even want to try?”
“Try! Try?” Archie's voice rose up high and bitter. Horatio found himself aware, of Archie's accent, the cut-glass purity of his speech, and the high-born drawl that came out in moments of fury.
“ You think so little of me, really? Five times, I tried Horatio. Each time I got further from England. They beat me, they chained me, hand in foot, in the dark, for a year. I walked the entire width of France, in my bare feet, tied to a cart. I saw men beaten to death for daring to look at the sky. The last time I tried was six weeks ago. The Don here, he threw me in a pit. They left me there alone for a month. I sat in my own shit, for a month. It was too small in there, to stand up, or lie down. So don't fucking talk to me about trying!”
Horatio stood, gasping. His morning was in shards. Archie looked at him, without pity.
“Now, get out.” He said. “Leave me alone.”
Horatio kept the tears back, until half-way down the stairs, at least.
He stumbled to the courtyard, half blinded by them. He slumped to the ground. There was a wall, he could face. It shone in the sun, and excused his blinking. He need not speak to anyone. Oh God, Archie, Archie, chained in the dark.
“Good-morning, gentlemen.” The high trill of the woman voice cut through his thoughts. The Duchess of Warfdale, the dispatches, another intractable problem.
“I have been permitted to the garden today,” The woman voice continued. “I have picked some fruit for you all to enjoy.”
Horatio turned. The dull ache, that filled his chest, and made it hard to breathe.
The men stood, Horatio stood. Hunter stood. That is what you did, when you were sitting, and a woman came near. Horatio did not remember his father teaching him that. It had seeped into his bones so young. Archie had said once, long ago, that one did not have to do it with sisters. That was fortunate. Considering how many sisters Archie had, he would never have gotten a chance to sit.
She was a white, woman shaped blur, shining in the sun. She carried a flat bottomed basket, the same shape as her sun hat. It was heaped with perfect globes of fruit.
“Good-morning Mr. Aitch.” She said, in that peculiar way she had. He found now that he did not mind being called 'Mr Aitch.' He had hated it at first, but now it was all right. He didn't mind it, the way she said it. She smiled up at him, and her eyes were warm. Horatio had the sudden sense that she was highly observant, and not at all stupid.
“I saved this one just for you.” She said, and pressed a peach into his hand. “You must eat and keep your own strength up, you know.”
“Thank you, your Grace,” Horatio said stiffly. “I am sure I shall enjoy it.”
The skirts of her swept away. Everyone seemed to exhale. Horatio knew, at least that he did. Oldroyd came to the basket, and selected an apple, walked away with it smiling. Horatio smiled himself, a little to think how good the apple would taste to Oldroyd. And how good his own peach would taste to Archie.
Hunter came next. What would Hunter choose? But no. Hunter seemed to have a boiling wrath in him, always. Horatio watched as he gave in to it. Hunter gave the basket a terrible kick. He spilled the globes of fruit, and the smell of crushed citrus filled the still air. The men of the division were standing still. Hunter was roaring something about beef, and crushing the precious fruit under his heel.
Horatio started towards him, maybe to push or strike him, certainly to stop the shocking ungrateful waste. But Hunter wheeled away, snarling, before Horatio could get there. The basket was toppled, undamaged. Horatio dropped to his knees. Some of the fruit was all right. He gathered it back to the basket. He selected a few limes, for Archie. Archie liked limes. And he would give the basket to Matthews to keep. That is how it should have been done.
An orange had rolled some distance away. Horatio went after it. It was small, but someone would want it, certainly. He scrambled after it, and almost had it, when it fell down into a hole in the ground. There was a hole in the grass, at the edge of the courtyard. There was a grating there, that Horatio had never noticed. The hole was covered with an iron grate. The little orange winked a moment, and fell away into the dark, and Horatio was left behind, gagging in horror, at the edge of the beastly oubliette.
Up the stairs again. He felt his heart beating. It hurt. The little door was so quietly shut. Horatio put his palm flat against it. He did not know what he was going to say. He turned the knob, and went in.
Archie was awake. He was resting on his side, curled slightly, watching the door. He did not smile, but neither did he turn away.
Horatio crossed to the bed, and knelt on the floor beside it. He held the peach out in his hand,
“I brought you this.”
“Its a peach.”
“I see that.”
“I'm sorry, Archie. I never doubted your courage. Never. Nobody does.”
Archie gave a deep sigh and sat up. He took the peach and held it , cupped, perfect in his palm. Horatio was close enough to smell the warmth of it, as it rested there, delicious.
Archie reached out with his other hand, and tugged. His eyes were grave, but his mouth was quirked, just a little.
“Come here, Horatio.” Horatio sat on the bed. Archie reached for him, drew him close, so close that their foreheads touched. A tiny rock of the angle would lead to a kiss, but Archie did not do that. He spoke, instead, slowly, as if speaking truth to a child.
“They hurt me. They hurt me over and over. Everything I thought I was, left me. I was utterly alone. I knew that you thought I was dead. My family thought I was dead. And after some time, I stopped speaking, stopped thinking. I had just one thought left in the end. I thought “at least Horatio isn't here.”
Archie rocked the angle. His kiss was gentle. “I missed you so much, I thought that alone would kill me. I wanted your touch, I wanted you to smile at me. I was so alone without you.” He said
“Because I had this to comfort me – at least it was me, and not you. At least nobody was doing those things to you.”
Archie ran his thumb gently over Horatio's lower lip. Horatio shivered. He could not seem to move, Archie's eyes were so huge and bright. Horatio lifted one hand, let it fall again. He waited. Archie's hand was touching, lightly, so lightly, over his mouth, his cheeks. Horatio's eyes wanted to close from the intense nearness. He struggled to keep them open. The blue gleam had not released him.
“Do you want me now?”
“Do you want me to please you?”
The spell broke. Archie's own eyes shut, in a long shiver. Horatio reached out, and touched. Archie set the peach aside, carefully. He drew Horatio all against him. The kisses were heating them both, mouths lapping, wet and open, Archie was so warm, his eyes, and the huff of his breath was driving everything else away.
“Let me undress you.” Archie said.
He hardly needed to speak. He was undoing the little shirt buttons, already, easing each one loose with a pop.
“I've dreamed of this, Horatio. Need you so much.”
Trousers off now, Archie drew them down and off. They were both naked. Both so hard and dripping. Horatio gasped at the heat of it. Archie pulled him gently down, so they could lie side by side, noses nuzzling, mouths gasping. There was a thing of heat, like burning lightning, down between them. Between, between, where it was so good. They pushed against it in turns, whimpering,
“There, Honeybee, there now.” Archie's voice was warm in his ear.
“Close now Archie.”
“Let it go now, oh – now, yes.”
And Horatio felt Archie's shudder against his own.
“Stay here with me?” It was actually a question. Horatio nodded. Archie drew the blankets up over them both.
“I'm so tired.”
“I know, but you are getting better.”
“Yes,” Archie kissed with a smiling mouth. “But you will be ill too, if you keep sleeping in that chair.. Sleep with me now. “