Title: The Captain's Table
Word Count: 596
Disclaimer: Yup, unfortunately.
The Captain's Table
The table cloth was fine linen, clean and white.
It had been pressed, with a hissing iron until the pleats were as sharp as those made with a straight rule. He could feel his feet in his shoes, the cloth of his trousers against his legs, the napkin in his lap. His hair was tidy and shining, his face and hands were clean. He knew how to eat, just so, off the fine porcelain. He knew this, of course he did. He was the son of an earl. He could feel Horatio, sitting beside him, with joy pouring off of him like heat from a forge. Horatio spoke to the Captain and the older men with a precise and humble joy, that was so purely his own that Archie wanted to laugh or cry, or kiss him right there.
But for Archie it was harder. Oh, easy enough to use the heavy silver fork, to eat slowly, smile and speak when the faces turned his way. He did that, he could do that. But all the time, something inside him was dropping like a heavy stone, and the real Archie was floating away from it, until he was not really inside himself at all, but up by the ceiling again.
Horatio could tell, of course. Always. He could coax Archie back, sometimes, with caresses that made the body seem like a good safe place to be. He could do it when they were alone. But he could not do that here. But he reached under the table, and put a hand on Archie's knee. It helped, but not enough.
Archie moved the food from the plate to the inside of Archie-body. It felt good, in a distant way, to be very full. The food tasted very good too. The plates were removed, coffee came. Tiny china cups, with EP on them. The coffee came. It had cream, and it was good.
Horatio said things, and then Mr Bracegirdle said things. Mr Bowles said some things. Then everyone laughed. Archie laughed too. He could feel his body's abdomen shake, and its mouth curve up in a smile that ached. There had been brandy, and the body's chin had gone numb.
Then there was a pause. Captain Pellew began to speak. He said things about Archie. He used words like 'courage,' and 'honor' and 'example.' Archie watched himself, from the outside. He was small, and blue and russet. He was a soft thing, with skin and flesh that was so easy to hurt.
Captain Pellew was watching him. Archie felt remote surprise, when he reached across the table, past the coffee cups, with his big hands, and his clean cuffs. He took both Archie's hands in his. The captain's hands were warm and huge. And his voice said something soft, just for Archie.
And Archie came rushing back and down again, and filled the limits of his own skin, and his gaze came from his own eyes again. And the captain's eyes were brown and kind. It hurt., and Archie's gaze faltered down, to the table cloth. It was blinding white, white as a sunburned cloud, too bright. And it made Archie's chest go tight, and he was blinking and blinking.
Then they were standing, and it was time to go. He was acting-lieutenant Kennedy, with his hand on the door, and they were leaving the great cabin behind them. Horatio's hand was under his arm, and Horatio said “Come Archie..” And they went to new quarters.