Title: Alone in the Afternoon
Word Count: 1106
Disclaimer: They are so not mine
Alone in the Afternoon
The fire was warm on his back, little chair turned to catch the light from the window. He had been reading all afternoon. The book was not especially long, but Archie knew how to make a book last. He was very accustomed to that. He had years of practice, after all. And reading in Spanish slowed things . He came to the end of the page, and exhaled. He let the little book subside to his lap. Staring into the flames, Archie pictured it all in his mind. This was his favorite part, always had been. Ever since early childhood, he had loved the way that books sank in to inhabit him. Once he let them in to do that, they stayed with him, a comfort in trouble. Archie felt his mouth quirk. God knows there had been plenty of trouble.
Today was rainy again. Horatio had gone for a walk, on the beach. He was going, after that, to help Hunter limp the courtyard. Archie had begged off. Horatio had been a little startled, but he had not pushed. Maybe he had thought Archie minded the rain. Archie did not, of course, mind the rain. He minded not being fully truthful with Horatio.
But Archie had been fighting the waves of dizziness all day. He knew what was coming.
Horatio did not mind the fits, really. He treated Archie, at such times, with practical respect and gentle strength. He did not think any less of Archie for it. He did not think Archie was stupid, or fragile, or demonic. But Archie's pride had spoken. He did not want Horatio to see him that way, if it could be avoided.
So, he was reading, and waiting. And now his head was beginning that funny tight ache, the words on the page were tilting and smearing. Best put the book aside. It would not be long.
He put the book away safe and lay down, on his side, on the floor, to wait. They afternoon crawled horridly over his skin. The shadows on the wall had an ugly look. Archie shut his eyes, shuddering. The old pain reached out to claim him. Just as he slipped away, he heard the door opening.
Awareness came back , in pieces. Archie drew the tatters around himself. Everything hurt. He could smell his own blood and vomit. Horatio was near, not touching him, but near. Archie could feel that too, out beyond the pain. He spoke carefully, keeping his eyes shut.
“I'm here, Archie.” Horatio's hand then, as of old, pushing Archie's hair back. Horatio's soft mouth kissed Archie's clammy face.
“I'm disgusting. Don't.”
“You are not disgusting. But you should have told me. I would have stayed to wait.”
“Didn't want. Oh I hurt, Horatio.”
“Come to the bed. I'll help you up.”
Horatio's strong arm was under his, and Archie stumbled to his feet. The headache that came after was crowding in now, the edges of the world, washed, to a sickening clarity. Archie gagged a little, wobbling there. But nothing came. He was empty.
“The shirt has to go.”
Horatio's fingers were swift and deft. He had the stinking thing off and away before Archie got his unfolded. He eased Archie back onto the bed, and tucked the blanket around him.
“Seems we've been here before.” Archie said. Horatio nodded, but he joke was flat. Horatio's eyes were grave and sad.
“Why were you on the floor?”
“So I didn't fall out of the bed.”
“Oh. Well, that shows commendable forethought.”
“It shows something, I suppose.” Archie reached up and felt his mouth with his fingers. “My tongue has stopped bleeding at least.” He smiled, just a little, carefully. An old memory came.
“When I was very little,” Archie said “My mother said I had a special mouth, that healed especially fast so I could eat again, just as soon as I wanted to. I believed it for the longest time.”
Horatio leaned close and placed a kiss on Archie's lips, careful, careful, soft as mist.
“You do. You have a very special mouth.” They both knew that Archie rarely spoke of his parents.
“I suppose she'll have my letter by now.” Archie felt his special mouth shaking, wanting to turn down into a ridiculous childish bow. Better think of something else.
“Turn over, I'll rub your back.”
“ All right.”
Archie rolled, heavily. He rested his head on his folded arms, head turned, so he could look, squinting through the light, at Horatio.
Horatio was petting his hair, moving the heavy braid aside, and stroking down over Archie's neck. Horatio's face was intent, his fingers strong and kind. Archie sighed.
“That's helping, I think.”
Horatio nodded. He moved closer, his hip nudging against Archie's bare side. The hands were working their way down Archie's back warming the muscle along his spine. The intensity of touch, now, was almost too much. Almost. Archie wanted it though. His skin was crazed in the hours after. He had always crawled away, as best he could, at such times, to hide in the dark, and sleep, if he could, until his feelings were the right size again.
But this was...different. Horatio's hands were so immediate and real, pressing and sliding, and warming. They were taking the pain away, and Archie felt as if he could feel everything, every atom of skin, every tiny trembling bit of them both.
This was not the usual pleasure of the body, with both of them pushing and pulling, and working in concert. This was not even the sweet caress in prelude to that. This was cousin to that, maybe, but different. It was a slow swell, far out to sea, that lifted Archie with gentle hidden strength. There did not seem an end to it, he floated, wondering
Horatio had taken the rosemary salve, and he was working it into Archie's back now, and it was sliding easy heat, and he was half asleep, and the world was still too big and bright.
“Don't stop. Feels good.” Archie's voice was hoarse and dreamy.
“Just rest, Archie. We'll talk when you wake.”
“You've never hurt me, H'ratio. Not ever, not once.”
And his Horatio looked at him, in genuine puzzlement. He was sliding his hands over Archie's scars, and he wrinkled his face in befuddlement.
“I love you, Archie,” Horatio said. “I would never want to hurt you.”