Title: Untied and Untucked
Word count 990
Disclaimer Alas, yes
The wooden door in the bulkhead was one that Horatio had never touched before. He would not have dared. Now it was his. A small piece of wood affixed above it said 'Lt. Hornblower.' He ran his hand over that, briefly. The wood was new and smooth and cold. He smiled.
But Archie was leaning numbly against his side. Archie was pale and slumped with fatigue, plaint in a way that was frighteningly unlike him. Even his hair seemed dimmed. There was no one in the passageway, no one to see. Horatio was not leaving him alone. “Come, Archie.” He said again, and drew him through the doorway.
The room was tiny. With the wooden door at his back, it was roughly wedge shaped. The bulkhead that faced Horatio was the in-tilted side of the Indy herself. One wall was not a wall at all. It was a curtain of sail-cloth. It was thin and worn, shadowed golden in the swinging lantern light. It made a division between his, and Archie's identical chamber next door. Horatio's hammock hung against the canvas partition. Someone had set his blanket and pillow, ready for him. His battered sea-chest sat below it.
Someone had done these things for him. Someone had carved his name into the little scrap of wood. Someone had hung it, carefully straight. Someone had slung Horatio's hammock, and arranged the bedding. It had probably been Oldroyd. He found himself absurdly touched.
Horatio pulled the sea chest out a little. There was room for Archie to sit. There was enough room to kneel before him, and take hold of his cold hands.
Horatio lifted the hands to his mouth. He loved Archie's hands. He knew them now, as well as his own. And they were so different from his own. Horatio's own hands had a slim nervous quality that he did not like and could not rectify. Horatio's hands moved on their own, learning, reaching, unless, with effort he stopped them. They were not docile. Archie's hands were different. They were muscular paws, that looked right for a blue water sailor. They were calloused on the bottom and freckled on the top. They were capable of great and sudden strength, they were able to do things tiny and exquisite. Tonight they were cold and still. Horatio moved his mouth over them, tasting, warming. After a moment, Archie sighed. He leaned against the wall, lifted his gaze.
“So tired, H'ratio,” he said.
“I know, Its been a long day.”
It had been. The Indy had come in with the early tide, at dawn. Horatio remembered sitting in the jolly, and the wonderful feel of the water swelling underneath them. He remembered the sun on his shoulders, and the prickle of sweat, and the sun shining all around them. After that, his day seemed to have telescoped. The Captain's dinner had passed at a gallop, with coffee at the end, and laughter, and kindness. Mostly, he had watched Archie with increasing worry.
“You went away for a little while there, didn't you?” It was not really a question, but Archie nodded anyway.
“Sorry. Tried not to.” Archie was wracked by a whole body yawn. His eyes drooped.
“Lets get you to bed.”
Horatio moved to loosen and remove Archie's cravat. How many times had he done this, giddy and dry mouthed with the bodies want? This was nothing like that. He stroked Archie's hair back, and began the buttons at the top. Discarding the waistcoat, Horatio could see the tiny stitching, where Archie had patched and repaired it. The linen shirt beneath was translucent with wear. They both needed new uniforms.
He eased Archie's shoes off. He unbuttoned, and untied, and untucked, until he could slide everything away. Archie was left in his drawers. They didn't cover much. They both needed new underthings, too.
“Come on, you.”
He drew Archie to his feet, and into an embrace. Archie slumped close, lowering his head, and pressing his nose against Horatio's shoulder. Horatio slid a hand against the back of Archie's neck. There was strong muscle there, from years at sea, but he could feel the bones too, delicate, vulnerable. Something inside Horatio was going soft and hot and fond. He wanted to stand like this all night, forever with his arms around Archie just so. He wished that he had a whole new language for the way he felt, a language soft and silly. Archie called him 'Honeybee,' at such times, and that felt so good. But Archie's name alone had always been Horatio's word for love.
“You are so dear to me,” Horatio tried. “Archie, my dear good thing.” And in the daylight, Archie might have laughed. He might have raised an eyebrow, and responded with Shakespeare, with Donne. But the day was gone. This was night, in the fluttering circle of lantern light. And Archie Kennedy was snoring, asleep on his feet.
“Bed now.” Horatio pulled the canvas divider aside. It was weighted at the bottom with shot, but not tied off. Horatio acted as a rudder, Archie, apparently, could walk in his sleep.
Once in the hammock though, the blue eyes opened, and sought Horatio's.
“Hmm?” Archie's voice was hoarse and dizzy.
“Time to turn in.” Horatio said. “Good-night, acting lieutenant.”
“Oh... all right. See..morning.”
Less than a minute later, Horatio was in his own hammock. He and Archie, close as ever, close enough to hold hands, as they had used to do. Only the silly cloth stood between them.
Perhaps in the morning it could be furled somehow. Perhaps a bit of rope-yarn. Or socks... they needed new socks. Toes poking out... Fingers, knots, socks. He was asleep. That must be it. That is why he had to take in sail using only socks and old undershorts.