Title: Love Nobly and Live
Rating R (for smut with love)
Word Count 1178
This is a look at the recitation of Donne's Anniversary which we know Archie promised Horatio. (We know it because Anteros said so in her splendid piece called 'The Anniversary.')
I imagine this is how it was, later that night. This is Horatio's POV.
Purgatory, of course. Not penury.
Archie of five years back had known nothing of penury. Only later had he learned the lessons that came with hunger and loss. Horatio knew that. Not that Archie spoke of it directly, he never did. Purgatory was closer to what Justinian had been. Purgatory was close to hell, after all.
Five years gone. Three years together and two years severed and bleeding and suffering. Horatio had almost not brought it up. There were dark corners in Archie, thickets of thorns, and places which looked like dry land and were not. Horatio knew himself loved, but he trod with care.
But it had been worth it. Worth it to mark the distances they had come. Such a long way.
The little chamber was cold. Horatio could see his breath in the air as he came in. Their two hammocks hung slack. How strange it had felt, five years back, to attempt to climb in and sleep. He had not known how to roll forward into the canvas the way he did now. The hammocks had seemed then to be unstable when empty, and disturbingly scrotal when occupied. Now they were just a sleeping place, warm and known, where he swayed with the roll of the Indy, and was one with the breath of her men.
He undressed quickly, shivering now. Tonight he climbed into Archie's hammock, into the bedding that was still warm, as Archie had promised. Archie's blankets were thick. They were better than his own. They smelled of Archie's hair and the clean sweat of sleep. It was delicious. Horatio moved restlessly. Sometimes when he was alone-- but not now. He would wait.
It seemed no time had passed at all before the door opened. He was half submerged, in dreams now but everything in him knew these sounds. He waited, drowsy and content. Then came the sound of Archie barefoot, and the gentle hand pushing Horatio's hair back.
“Wake up Horatio,” Archie's voice which could be gun-deck loud, was soft now. He hated to break Horatio's sleep. Aboard any ship sleep was precious.
“Come lie with me,” Archie said.
“You said you would read me that poem.” Horatio's voice was hoarse but he was growing more alert now.
“Don't need to read it—I have it up here.” Archie drew him down to the blanket nest.
Horatio settled to the deck, to the heaped blankets Archie had gathered. So much warmer this way, with Archie rolled above him, dim in the darkened space. The heat of him, and the gentle hands and the solid body against his own. They had four hours.
“All Kings, and all their favourites,
All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun itself, which makes times, as they pass,
Is elder by a year now than it was
When thou and I first one another saw:
All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;”
Archie's voice was different this way, more formal in recitation than speech. His pauses were deliberate, each word picked out in light. But his voice was soft, for Horatio alone. Archie looked down as he spoke, hand-span close. He was caressing as he spoke, defining the edges of Horatio with flickering heat. Here were the soft insides of Horatio's arms, here the rise of ribs, the dip of throat.
Dressed for the day, in uniform, the body faded. Horatio was made of words and intention in the day. It had to be so. How could one work a cannon or order men to fight knowing the truth of the body? It was only here that he remembered himself as a creature of skin and pulse and need.
Archie was still speaking, speaking down from where he had rolled above, his eyes were dark and shining, and he had Horatio's left leg between his own, and Horatio could feel the warm prickle of the little curled hairs as Archie's thighs tightened .
“This no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.”
The need between them was its own thing, a hot ache that had them both breathless. Horatio was lifting now, to capture it. But Archie was setting the pace. He moved only slowly, His open mouth was breathing rapidly, but his voice held the words sure and clear, the words against Horatio's eyes, cheek, ear, the words of the poem lost in Horatio's hair, spread out over the canvas pillow.
“But souls where nothing dwells but love
(All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
This, or a love increasèd there above,
When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.”
His hand in Horatio's hair now, stroking the ridge of Horatio's ear, the small bones of his neck. Horatio turned his cheek to the cup of the hand, shivering.
“And then we shall be throughly blessed;
But we no more than all the rest.
Here upon earth we’re Kings, and none but we
Can be such Kings, nor of such subjects be;
Who is so safe as we? where none can do
Treason to us, except one of us two.”
Horatio had the linen shirt pushed high, his hands up underneath. He felt Archie's back flex and dip, as they rocked together. He felt the lift of the curve as Archie breathed. Archie's skin under his hands, pale as milk, and the faint lines of scars, faded now. And Horatio was dizzy and wanting, and each thrust was tipped with fire now, each feeding the next. They were both going faster, and Archie moved to center himself, Horatio saw him brace rigid, on his elbow just a for moment, to look down between them, to see the way they rose to each other.
Then the hot rigid slide of them aligned, and Horatio squeezed his eyes shut.
“There now,” Archie said. “There. Oh.”
“ True and false fears--” His voice was blurred against Horatio's skin now, and he was trying, still trying.
“True and false—Oh I cannot – its coming now, now.”
And Horatio took the shudder and the heat of it, and rose up with his own.
And after was for slowing hearts, and Archie rolled to the side, but not far; still within the circle of Horatio's embrace. Horatio wrestled his nightshirt back down. It was abrasive now, he felt so much more, after.
“I never did tell you the last verse.” Archie was sleepy. His voice was soft in a tired way.
“It goes like this:
“True and false fears let us refrain,
Let us love nobly, and live, and add again
Years and years unto years, till we attain
To write threescore: this is the second of our reign.”
Horatio swallowed hard around the clench of tears in his throat. “I like the last bit the best,” he said.