Word Count 850
El Ferrol, upstairs.
The sheets were cool against his bare legs. The light in the window was different each time he looked. It made his head ache. His back ached too, and his skin was hot, and he slept without knowing it, and woke amazed, over and over. Mostly Horatio was there, in the little straight backed chair. And Horatio had a damp cloth that felt so good, and water in a tin cup. And he said 'Sleep Archie. It is all right to sleep.'
A morning light came finally, to push on his face. Time and place were right side up. Horatio was in the chair with his legs stretched out and his hands limp. Horatio's closed eyelids were red and swollen.
Archie went to sit up, and the brown eyes flew open.
“Here let me help,” The arm under him was impossibly strong, and it shifted him back and up.
“How is that?”
“The kitchen will not open until 6. I have some bread from yesterday, not too stale I think. And there is water. If you want to wait there will be butter and coffee--”
Horatio was watching him closely.
“Or--” Horatio said, “you could have bread now and more bread with butter later.”
And so he sat up in bed in the weak sunlight and the bread was soft in his mouth. The taste of it made his eyes sting and his throat close, and only when he had eaten the last crumbs off the bedspread he was able to look up.
“Would you like me to read to you?” Horatio said.
They had been reading Cervantes, borrowed from the Don's library, alternating it with Horatio's copy of Bowditch to make both last longer. That was before Archie got so sick, and they were given the upstairs room.
Horatio yawned. He had spent the night in the chair, on lazy-watch, in a sort of extended heavy eyed doze, not legally asleep, not fully awake, it was all right during the night, Archie knew, but you paid the next day.
Horatio usually climbed in with him to read-- 'so you can see the pictures, Archie' which was silly really. Don Quixote had no pictures, and Archie could see Bowditch's rigging and trigonometry and navigation in his mind, of course, clear as day.
But Horatio said Archie should see the pictures, and Archie was certainly not going to argue. So now he sat back against the pillows, shut his sore eyes and waited. He could hear Horatio fumbling for the book, and the soft thump of shoes discarded. Then the dip of the mattress, and the woolly abrasiveness of Horatio's jacket against Archie's cheek. The strong arm drew him close, and three kisses came soft and slow, to his brow, his hair, his larboard ear.
The ear one was especially nice, and Archie felt a brief and lovely sparkle. But the want was far and small, beyond the aching in his bones and the heat of sickly fever. It would be there, when they were ready to seek it, it could wait.
He curled close, eyes still closed. Horatio rustled the pages, cleared his throat.
“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state...”
No need for pictures, no need to open his eyes or question. It was just the smell of Horatio, and the warm little bed, and the blessed perfect words traveling over and through and around him.
Three sonnets later Horatio came to a stop.
“That was lovely, I never expected--”
“Did I surprise you?” Horatio gave a sort of pleased wiggle.
“Yes. I had no idea.”
“It is the book you gave me, Archie. I kept it with me all the time you were gone. At first I could not bear to read it, but I made myself. And then it helped a little. Look--”
He turned to the front, where the ink was still fresh and black.
'To HH, from AK 1793'
Horatio ran his finger over the letters, gently. “It helped, just a little,” he said again.
They sat together for some time after that. Horatio let the silence be. But it was Horatio who broke it too.
“Was he like us?”
“Was who like us? You mean Shakespeare?
“Well, some people think he must have gone to sea-- he wrote about--”
“No, not that. I mean I have read all these poems now, and some are about a girl, but some are not and I wondered, was he like us?”
He caressed Archie's face as he said the last words, and his eyes were soft and uncertain. And Archie thought of the small world of the doctors house and the little village; the solitary boy who had proved so good a seaman, the closed world of the ships.
“Yes,” Archie said. “I think so.”
Notes: Two things I kind of hand-waved. In my own first story timeline Horatio discovered that Archie was sick on the first night. This piece assumes a timeline more like that in the movie. Also I know that Hello was not a greeting back then. At least not the way we use it. But it felt right in this case to me. I hope you will not mind too much.