Title: Into the reeling world
Word Count 953
Disclaimer, sadly, not my boys
Into the Reeling World
“Of course I will, if you want me to.” Horatio said. “but it might not go easily.”
“I think we had still better try anyhow. It will only get worse if we wait.”
“Well, all right. Come over here, and sit in the sun.”
Archie sank into the chair, and Horatio moved to stand behind him. The wobbling rectangle of sunlight fell warm across Archie's knees, warm, gentle. He felt Horatio's hand lifting the heavy hair off his neck, it felt so good.
Horatio pulled it carefully back, “Don't want to comb your ears Archie, ” he muttered. “Its going to be bad enough, you're all matted underneath.”
Archie sighed. He was not worried at all that the comb would hurt. Whatever Horatio was doing felt delicate and lovely. Little lightning jolts trickled down his neck, and he let his eyes nearly close.
“This comb is not as good as mine...”
“Hmmm,. Feels all right.” Thinking of that little comb, Archie's mind went back further.
“You know, Horatio, that week in Kent, that week that started with you combing my hair?”
“Yes, course...” The combing had led to kissing, and then to everything else, to the truth of touch, to the clear sight of love. They could feel each other remembering.
“That was the best week of my whole life.”
“Mine too. We'll go back, someday, you know. “
“Yes.” But, it was hard, Archie reflected, to talk about the time when captivity should end. Any future, any return to sea, depended on escaping. And escape was nearly impossible.
Horatio took up the ragged ends. He worked his way up, with care, from the bottom, until the dull tangles were gone, and Archie's hair shone again like liquid silk. Finally the comb slid free, from the top all the way down. Archie rolled his head back, and smiled. He could see Horatio's eyes, glowing fondly, upside down.
“Love you.” Archie whispered, and he received an upside down kiss.
Outside in the courtyard there was some sort of noise. Someone was arguing, Archie could hear the male voices harsh, raised. They were were audible even through the closed window.
Horatio settled his hands on Archie's shoulders. His fingers gripped the muscle there, as if drawing strength. “I should go down in a minute, and see what that's about.” He sounded reluctant. “Probably nothing, but this wears on them, you know.”
Archie covered the port-side hand with own, he could feel the tension in Horatio's fingers, and in the rapid breath above him. “Braid me up, Honeybee, and I'll go down with you. I'm ready.”
Archie had not been sure, until he said it, but it was true, he realized. He was ready.
Horatio was halfway through a four strand braid, when the boots came pounding up the stairs.
The guard was there, Archie was able to look at him. He had not looked at the guards, since that day in the spring But this was just a man, after all. A man, sweating and worried, gesturing, laboring in accented English.
“You need to come down, Sir.” he insisted, “Come now. Now.”
Archie followed, trying not to feel the strangeness. The three of them clattered down the narrow stairway.
The sun was bright in his eyes, and the air smelled of sand, and the sea. Archie put a hand back against the warm stone of the prison, just to steady himself. There was no reason that the land world should dip and reel, as if he were sitting in the tops. This was the same courtyard he remembered. There was no reason for his heart to labor so.
He could hear Horatio beside him, breathing heavily. Most of the men of the division, were clustered at the far end of the yard, and Archie could see the blue midshipman's jacket, in the middle of the group, topped by untidy fair hair. That must be the exasperating Mr Hunter. Archie did not remember the man.
Archie did of course, recognize Matthews and Styles, standing apart from the others. Styles had his massive arms folded. Matthews was frowning. Archie saw them look up, he saw them notice Horatio. Archie stepped forward into the light. He felt the drop in his gut, the prickle of his neck, telling him something was about to go wrong. He had the urge to reach for a cutlass, which was of course, not there.
“Mr Kennedy,” Matthews said “Good to have you back, Sir.” And Archie could see that this was the truth. Matthews worn face was lit with a moment of genuine pleasure. Styles, standing behind, nodded, briefly. His worried face returned to Horatio though.
“Thank you Matthews.” Archie returned. “I am glad to be back.”
It was, after all, what one said to such kindness. And he was glad perhaps, of a chance to put himself between Horatio and coming trouble. Because there was trouble coming. Archie could feel that much, diminished as he was. He could read it in the rigid posture of the men who did not turn to see Horatio's approach. And he could feel it pouring off of Hunter.
“What is it, Matthews?” Horatio, a little slower, had noticed it too.
“I should have known, Mr. Hornblower, Sir. I didn't know until now, but I should have. Its all that dumb bastard Oldroyd...I should have --”
And Archie felt himself go small and cold, the way he did at such times. Because that is when the real trouble started.