Title: Some are Restored
Word Count 1309
Disclaimer, as always
Some are Restored
Warm and soft, skin and breath snuffled against Archie's chest. A long hand curled, limp and harmless near Archie's chin. He was angular beneath the velvet skin, thinner than he ought to be. Horatio, beloved.
Archie raised himself stealthily on one elbow. Evening was drawing in now, they had slept all day. Horatio was exhausted. He would have to heal, both awake, and in dreams. Archie grimaced. He knew the ugly work of dreams. But that was for another day. Today was for the bodies needs. Horatio had dropped like a rock, into sleep with his hair loose and wet. Now it was a dark nimbus around his head, tendrils caught in his mouth, fluttering. Archie pulled free a curl, stuck to Horatio's lip and cheek. The long mouth twitched, and Horatio swallowed. He did not wake.
Sleep, in his Majesties Navy, was nearly always public. Archie had seen scores of men asleep, in the past six years, maybe hundreds. Few men were ugly in sleep. Some were quiet, some loud. Some spoke, most snored. Many, many, cried out, in the grip of nightmares. Archie knew all about those. In the months before the trip to Kent, Archie had lain awake many times, in his canvas enclosure, protecting Horatio's rest. He had been so aware, then, of Horatio inches from him. It had been a torment not to touch, not to lean close, and let the weight of his gaze bring those dark eyes open.
He could touch now. And in sleep Horatio was lovely. The years fell away from his innocent face. The childhood he had so recently left took primacy. His brows drew down slightly, over his long nose, his cheeks flushed, his eyes flicked with dreams. And now, Archie could lean close. He could kiss that nose, those eyes, and be rewarded with Horatio's sigh, as he snuggled closer.
Horatio did snuggle closer, he flopped, belly down with a small snort. His hair was halfway down his back, dark as ink, and impossibly tangled. Slowly, Archie moved the hair aside. He drew the sheet down. He waited a moment. Horatio did not wake. There, exposed, the white skin, and vulnerable bones of Horatio's back. The skin was more scraped raw, than cut. This was not a flogging, nor a caning. Nothing official here. This was simply a beating, of four angry men, on one. Archie could see something, on the left ribs, which looked very like a boot-print.
He paused a moment, to let the heavy stone of his anger sink deep. It had no place in this room, in this bed. Acting on a deep need he did not examine, he let his open mouth find the bruises. Softly, carefully, he brought his lips to each one. The damaged skin tasted different.The scabs and scrapes had wept their healing salt. He licked at them ,softly Archie's tongue told him the taste was new, but still, in all the world, could only be Horatio.
The long back stirred, under his attentions, and he could feel Horatio rise to consciousness.
“Feels good.” His voice was hoarse with sleep.
“Hmmm.” Archie was kissing along the spine now, pausing to lick gently at the torn spots. He reached the tilt of pelvic bone, and gave a long nuzzle. Horatio turned over, and drew Archie up. The skin of Horatio's lips and cheeks was softer than his back, but not by much.
Horatio was pulling him close, sliding a hand down Archie's own back, ghosting over the scars, knowing Archie with his own hands, looking and seeing him true.
Horatio brought his hands around, to cup Archie's head, to rest his thumbs on the cheekbones, to kiss him with careful attention, as though kissing Archie was terribly important. Archie leaned into the kiss, feeling his muscles tremble and bunch. Horatio's mouth was doing wonderful things, hot and soft, and showing Archie his own hot soft need, even as he promised to relieve it.
But Horatio disengaged the kiss, turning his head to the side, with a sigh.
“I need to ask, you something.” His voice was low, and hesitant.
“All right.” Archie was making an effort. It was not easy to think, he was dizzy with kissing.
“Is Hunter dead?”
“No. I don't think so. His leg was – well, it was a little bit broken. I did the best I could for it, got the ball out, but it became corrupted. There is a Spanish physician visiting the Don. They took Hunter to him. But – No, its all right. Look at me, Horatio. Its all right. He's not dead. I expect he'll keep his leg. He just needed more help than I could give.”
“At least you tried to help him.”
“What do you mean?”
Horatio scrambled to sit up, wincing a little as his back moved. He moved into his knee hugging position, his eyes were distant and sad.
“I have not told you how it was, Archie, in the months after you were taken. It wasn't just me. The ship was a disgrace.. The men of your division were impossible. Captain Pellew was like a bear with a tooth-ache. You could hear him yelling, from the orlop. Being in berthing was like staring at a severed limb. Cleveland kept eating everything, Cadogan cried himself to sleep every night. The damn cat was shitting in everyone's shoes. I was sleeping with your shirt. Don't laugh! I thought you were dead. I was insane, Archie.”
Archie reached out a caressing hand. “I'm not laughing at you, Horatio.” He said. “Or not much. It sounds horrid. I'm so sorry Honeybee.”
“It was horrid. And Hunter transferred in then, into the middle of it. And they gave him your division. And they hated him. And all he could ever talk about was how much better he had liked his old ship, and how things were done wrong on the Indy. “
“I see.” Archie did see, he had seen this happen before.
“I failed him, Archie. I never gave him a chance. I was just so angry. I hated him. I tried to hide it because it was so wrong, but I hated him for being himself, for – for not being you. And that has led to all this, and if he dies, if they take his leg, it will have been my fault.”
Archie shook his head. How best to explain this? He could see Horatio tangling himself in the guilt, and misery. Archie leaned in to kiss again, to soothe the delicious inward quirks of those dark brows. So much guilt here, and so little need of it.
“Horatio, in this last week, I've gotten to know Hunter just a little bit. He's not strong Horatio. He let despair get the better of him. I've seen it happen...before, you know. Its him, Horatio. Its not your fault.”
Indeed Archie had seen it before. Men with surface injuries, injuries less severe than his, who rolled over and died, died weeping for their mothers, as some indefinable thing inside them broke. Men who died, alone in the dark, forbidden to look at the sky. They had been unable to comfort each other there. Chained in the dark, each alone.
Enough. Archie forced a smile. Usually it was so easy to smile at Horatio, but this smile would not stay, so he pulled Horatio close, too close to see Archie's face.
“Not your fault Horatio. Tomorrow you can go to check on him.”
“But I – “
“Come here Horatio, and let me touch you now. Tomorrow is soon enough. You can go then, and I'll go with you, too.”