Word Count 1795
More Needs of the Navy
The bum boat met the dock, gentle as an auntie’s kiss.
He and Archie would have stepped ashore dry, if it had not still been raining. As it was they came ashore soaked. Sometimes, lately, Horatio thought he was no longer suited to the land. Walking beside Archie, his steps were awkward against the rigid earth. He knew he was graceless, askew, the terrestrial world heaved around him. Being on land was strange after four months at sea. Everything was too loud, too sudden and disorderly.
Portsmouth was that way anyway of course, a shock after the world of the Indy. Nothing stopped the commerce of the docks, not war, not taxes, and not a near month of rain. There was always a heaving crowd here, busy with mysterious doings.The crowd was thickest near the water’s edge, the sail-maker shops, coopers, rope walks, whores. Everything for sale, everyone and everything going somewhere. The air smelled of salt and gin. Men rolled barrels in a gutter streaming with filth, somewhere a dog was yelping, a high repetitive sound. A marine was standing under an open window shouting in Spanish to a man leaning out of a third floor window. The street crowded around Horatio. At his elbow a ragged woman screeched with laughter. She was horribly close, close enough to touch. As they passed she lifted her dress above her head. She had no shift beneath. Horatio had a rapid impression of her body, gaunt and pale, her pointed hipbones streamed with water and the hair that they never put in the paintings. As they passed by she lowered her dress again and shouted something ugly, something about mollies.
But Archie pulled at his other elbow and they turned a corner into a hidden quiet place. It was like a magic trick, they had turned the corner and the voices and the people were behind them. This was a narrow alley behind the busy commercial fronts. The narrow wet street ahead was empty. The relief was immense.
Horatio had intended to hurry to the inn, but Archie stopped walking. Above them was a window, shuttered. It had a stone eyebrow which served to block the worst of the weather. Archie lounged back on one jacketed shoulder against the bricks. And Archie looked good enough to bite, to eat.
“Come here Horatio,” he said. “Close under my lee.”
Horatio stepped close, close enough to see the raindrops caught in Archie’s eyelashes. They glittered with tiny rainbows, and water had darkened the little hairs. The first kiss was those rainbows, lid and lash, tasting of water and thinnest skin. Archie’s mouth was rainy too, cold on the outside, warm in the kiss. His jacket smelled of wool, and his arms were strong.
Kissing in public was dangerous, but a storm drenched alley was probably safe enough. They could not dare more though. He knew it, even as he imagined the best kiss of all, imagined dropping to his knees on the stones right there. Archie’s mouth was red and swollen, and his eyes dark from just that touch of mouths. Horatio would wager Archie was imagining too.
Archie stepped back and shook his head, and his smile was soft and rueful. His fingers came up to touch Horatio’s lips, tracing them as though he had not just had his own there, as if he did not see them every day and every night.
“Better stop now I think. J-just for now. An hour from now we will have a room.”
Ten minutes into that hour they had a table and plates before them. Horatio found with distant surprise that he was ravenous. For some time he just ate. But he looked up, eventually and found the heated weight of Archie’s gaze. Horatio knew how lucky he was, and he was grateful, deliberately, day and night. He knew Archie was grateful too, even when they were so tired that all they did was sleep. That was life at sea. Ashore was different.
Ashore meant sitting together and sharing a meal, it meant eyes catching across the table, and the slow heat rising between them. Ashore was loaded with the memory, the memory of the slow slide of hands, the soft touch of mouths, the things they had done when they had the time for optional flourishes. Now, tonight, the simple act of eating a lamb chop and not being at sea had Horatio rigid in his best shore-going breeches.
Quite soon the plates were empty. Archie had paid for what he called a ‘really very decent wine Horatio.’It had tasted like wine. It had been red. And now it too was gone. Archie’s eyes were heavy and soft. Somehow it had gotten dark outside while they were eating. Looking around the room Horatio saw the room had begun to empty, Over in the corner, Cleveland was smoking his horrible pipe
Horatio looked at Archie and felt his mouth go dry, his breath caught. “Shall we go up?” Archie asked, and Archie’s voice was as heavy and slow as a touch. They went up. The room had a floor and a bed and a door. The floor and the bed were horizonal. The door had a lock. It was enough.
The room was a small one. Three steps would bring them to the bed, a real land bed stuffed with something soft, and complete with pillows and even bed-curtains. Horatio had time for one blinking look before Archie pushed him back against the closed door.
“All day,” Archie said, “I have been waiting for this.” They were pressed close now, and the good ache of it tightened all the way down inside Horatio, and his skin had prickled into goosebumps. Archie’s lips were soft at the angle of jaw, and the place under Horatio’s ear, and Archie’s sharp teeth closed in a sharp and sudden nip that made him gasp.
And now Horatio could do it; could do what he had been dreaming of all day. Archie’s hands supported him as he knelt. His back rested against the door, as he sat on his heels. He drew Archie a stumbling half step closer, to stand between his spread knees. Archie’s breath was away above him, quick and light, Archie’s legs were trembling. He groaned as Horatio mouthed the rigid place.
Horatio slipped the buttons loose, the breeches sagged, he pushed them down, down was enough, off was for later. With his left hand he lifted the front tails of Archie’s shirt. He held the cloth high with his left hand. Archie’s cock was flushed and stiff, and the skin of it satin against Horatio’s lips. He nuzzled, cheek and mouth,not taking it in, not yet, not even really kissing, just using his mouth to feel with. His right hand rested on Archie’s hip, gentle against the curve of the bone.
Archie was thrusting now, just a little. Horatio didn’t think he even knew it, “Please, there,” he said. His voice was shaking too. “Please. Oh please.” Horatio smiled against the skin. He pressed a kiss to the angle of belly and thigh, and it was enough, they were both done with waiting. He drew Archie at last into the heat of his mouth, against the cup of his tongue. He could feel the tremors go to rushing pulses, not long now.
And it did not take long,Archie bucked against him, once, and then twice. The hot spill came, and away above Archie gave a shivery “Oh.”
Horatio climbed to his feet. He was still hard and aching himself, but that could wait. He gathered Archie close, stroking his back, kissing his damp brow.
“You didn’t have to do that Honeybee,” Archie’s voice was low. “We could have—”
“Don’t be silly. I wanted to. I love to do it.”
“I meant for us to—
“Well we still can, or later if you would rather sleep. ”
They longed for sleep, almost constantly. Everyone did, nobody ever got enough.Unbroken sleep was a wistful memory of the past ashore, a memory sweet as apples and hot fresh bread. In the economy of the ship sleep was actually worth money. He and Archie had paid sometimes, in rum or coin, for a night unbroken by watch. Some ships used extra watches as a punishment. Justinian had done so, and Bush had said once that his old ship had done so. Boys aboard the Indy were more likely to find themselves mastheaded or, less often, bent over a gun.
But they had three days ashore now. Three days for the washerwomen to do their work. And they longed for other things too. Sleep could wait. They rolled together on the soft wide bed, and Archie rose hard again, and Horatio moved under Archie’s hand. The hand was there on him, oh there now, and the blanket under his knees, and he was aching, shivering, suspended. And the rain was still striking the windows, but their sounds were nearer and warmer. And it was close, so close now, and he had to tell. And he heard his own voice speak, plead, gasp, but the words unraveled, and Archie’s hand had him tight. Archie’s hand was a closed stroke, and Horatio was shuddering now, oh perfect now, and now, until the was a blaze that consumed him.
Sleep did come of course, not a deep sleep, but a good one. Archie’s hand spread on his belly, Archie’s thighs behind his own. Horatio floated, weightless in a dream of foolish homely things, dreamed until something shook him awake. Not a sound, but a change in the air, sudden and startling.
“Wuzzat?” Archie's voice was hoarse with sleep but the non-sound had wakened him too. The room was entirely dark, Horatio’s open eyes might as well have been tight shut. Horatio felt the bed shift as Archie sat up, felt Archie tense beside him, holding his breath, and listening. The little room was empty but for them, no danger there, just the faraway noises of other sleepers in other rooms, and the voice of a wooden building, creaking and settling as they do. Horatio listened, and in the space of the next breath Horatio knew.
“What a couple of fools we are— it has only stopped raining.”
He said that, and he felt Archie sag against him, and felt the slick of sweat under his palm. He heard the dry click as Archie swallowed.
“Oh. Yes. That must be it,” Archie said.
“Back to sleep?
The second sleep was deeper, longer. He woke slowly to Archie’s smile and sunlight pouring like honey through the window.
“Coffee?” said Archie.