Title: Regrettable Actions
Word Count 1646
Disclaimer I did not invent them
Sausages again. Sausages and the bread that coated his mouth with the strange taste for hours. He looked down at it with distaste. 'Eat what's put before you Rob.' That is what his mother would say. She would say it, even here, where the world made no sense. She would wipe her red hands down over her apron, and that is what she would say. 'Waste not, want not, Rob Hunter.' She was dead now, ten years, but she would not let that stop her. She would be standing in the kitchen doorway, and that is just what she would say. Even here, in prison, in Spain.
So, he shifted his weight a little on the hard bench, and he ate the sausages and the bread. They went grateful to his gut, anyway. Not so bad once you got them past the mouth. There was only water to drink. No wine, no beer. Beer went best with sausages. Best with beef, which he longed for so much it hurt. The water was fresh, and clean. Cold. It had come up from some well, only this morning, carried by a plump Spanish woman, Hunter was sure. A woman had made this food. A woman with small dusty feet, and dark floss under her arms. He was sure of it. He fancied he could taste it. Women. Better not to even think of them now. It would just make his misery worse.
He didn't miss things so much when he was at sea. He didn't trouble himself with longings for women, and tastes of things he couldn't have. When Rob Hunter was at sea, he didn't have this feeling in his chest, like a fuse, burning, like a heavy weight, pressing. He did his work, both hands for the King. He knew what was expected of him. It was enough.
There was a lizard, on the wall, watching him. It had tiny eyes, like jewels. Hunter slid the last crumb of sausage toward it, with one finger, slowly, slowly. The lizard rose on its clawed toes, it puffed itself to show its boldness. “You and me both, mate,” Hunter said. The lizard looked at him, astonished, but it took the crumb, at the lat minute, and ran with it.
“Sausages and bread this morning, Archie.” Horatio set them down, and settled himself at the foot of the bed. Archie moved his feet, to make room.
“You know, you don't have me fooled Horatio.”
“I know that you have been giving me half your rations too. I want you to stop it. Its no good having me get better, if you get sick.”
“Come here, Horatio.”
“I'm not – “
“Yes, you are. Come here.”
Archie reached out and took Horatio's hand. There was strength in the arm that pulled Horatio close, and Archie's smile warmed the little room. Horatio opened his mouth, to protest again, and Archie popped bread into it.
“Aaagh –Stop that.”
“Stop what? This?”
“You can't kiss me and expect me to chew and swallow food at the same time! Its inhuman.”
“Clever Mr Hornblower can't do two things at once? I doubt that. “
“Can't. Archie, I mean it, I'm going to choke!” Horatio reached for the water.
“What about this then, acting lieutenant Hornblower, can you eat while I do this?” Archie moved his attentions somewhat lower.
“Oh. Oh...Now look, Archie, you made me spill water all over my shirt. This is my only shirt you know, and now its soaked. Damn you, what are you laughing at?”
Horatio stripped off the shirt, with fearsome impatience and threw it toward the chair. It landed on the floor with a soggy thwack.
Archie snickered. “You are really bad at throwing things, Horatio.”
“Yes, you are. Come here to me, Horatio. You are bad at throwing things, but you are very very good at other things.”
“What sort of other things?”
“Lets find out.”
And Archie pulled him close, and kissed his sausage tasting mouth, and it felt so good to be held and cosseted, and petted. Horatio sighed against Archie, warm and content. Archie's hand was warm, but not fever hot, not sick hot. Archie was getting better, getting stronger, and Horatio did not have to worry right now, could relax, could just feel, and it felt so good...
“What is this scar, Horatio?” Archie was lifting his arm, looking, Archie's voice was sharp.
“What scar? Oh...” Horatio brought his arm down in a hurry.
“You didn't have that last time I looked closely.” Archie was poking. It hurt. “Who shot you, Horatio?”
Horatio sighed. He pulled his knees up, and wrapped his arms around them.
“Simpson. Simpson shot me, in the second duel.”
“What second duel?” Archie's voice rose. “I thought he died during the raid on the Papillon.”
“I never said that. I just said that he had died.”
“Well. You certainly let me think it.” Archie said. He folded his arms. He was scowling now, and his voice was shaking.
“You had better start at the beginning, Horatio and tell me everything.”
“All right, Archie.” Horatio sighed. “I'll try.” He didn't want to try. He wanted Archie to hold him warm, and kiss him more, and he never wanted to think about Simpson, or the Papillon again.
“I'll try.” Horatio said again. Archie gave a tight nod. His face was utterly closed.
“How much do you remember of that day?” Horatio started.
“I remember sitting at the Captain's table, and we were planning the cutting out.” Archie said. His brow was wrinkled now, with the effort of memory. And Simpson came in, and – after that it is blank. I woke up in the boat, in the middle of the estuary.” Archie shivered, and Horatio folded the blanket over him.
“Well... After the meeting, I went to the head.” Horatio said. “When I got down to berthing, you were there with Simpson. Do you remember any of that?”
“No.” Archie shook his head.
Horatio took a deep breath. This part was going to hurt, hurt them both.
“We got into the boats, and when we were about halfway there you had a fit, Archie. That's why you don't remember. You were shouting. And I had to do something, and so I – I hit you on the head, to quiet you. I knocked you down, and out. I could have killed you . And its my fault, what happened after, and you being captured. Its all my fault.”
Archie was looking at him, now, pale and shocked, but the anger that Horatio had feared was not there. Archie was gnawing his lip, hard, thinking.
“Why didn't I take my pills? They did work you know. I had taken them several times. They worked. If I had a fit coming on, I should have felt it.”
“Don't know. Had you used them up, maybe.”
“No, there were a lot.”
Horatio was twisting his hands together, thinking. “Archie--” he spoke slowly. “After you disappeared, we kept your things. The Captain and Mr Bracegirldle let me keep your sea-chest.”
“That is nice but---”
“No, you don't see. For the longest time, I couldn't bear to look in it. Then I did, I missed you so much. I know every thing that's in there, each thing, just as it was when you left. I thought you were dead...”
Horatio's voice was rushing now, tears in it, in his eyes, he couldn't stop.
“I know every item in there, and the pills are not there.”
“Simpson took my pills.” He said
“Do you remember that?”
“No, my memories after the meeting are just – gone. That happens. But I'm sure, Horatio. I would not have taken them with me. And they were not in my sea-chest. And it makes sense. So, go on. You hit me on the head, and then what?”
“I didn't want to hit you on the head – I thought I'd killed you. Oh, Archie.”
Archie's hand was kind, on Horatio, but his voice was implacable. “Tell me the rest.”
Chadd died, and Eccleston died, and I took command. Mr Bowles backed me up. Simpson was like a mad dog, Archie. He shot me then too. He was trying to kill us both.”
The certainty in Archie's voice, the quiet practicality of it, hurt to hear. Yes, he was trying to kill me, to kill us. Yes.
And Horatio buried his face in his knees, and choked out the rest of the story, how he had stood on the beach, shivering, and bleeding, as Simpson begged for his worthless life. How he had failed to shoot. How Pellew had done it.
“I would have killed him.” Archie said.
“I know. I wish you could have.”
Archie drew a great hitching sigh. “It droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”
“ Never mind.” Archie said “Come here Horatio.”
And Horatio could see Archie, putting all of this away, pushing it away with main strength that he could ill afford. He put it somewhere, where he kept such things, so it did not blight the daylight. It would come out in dreams. Horatio knew this now, they both knew it. It would seep out where it could, but not today.
Today, Archie was all in the light of day, and he drew Horatio close.