Title:When They Were Tigers
Word Count 612
Disclaimer Not mine
When They Were Tigers
Horatio could feel his throat straining, the last vowel forced out like a gut punch, with the last of his air. Horatio could hardly breathe anyway, hardly see. The air on the gun-deck was thick with smoke, he could taste it, oily and steely on the top of his mouth. He could hear the horrid sound of the other ship coming apart. It was as offensive as a mutilation.
The other ship was smaller, should have been easy. But she had fought fierce. Now they would have her, drag her home as a prize.
The order shouted from above. Horatio sagged. The men of his division look a deep collective breath. They were covered in soot and smoke dirt, streaked with sweat and snot, and blood. Shirtless, stinking, they looked fierce as tigers. They had fought like tigers too, working the guns with stunning speed and economy. Now a boarding party could go, and complete the bloody work.
Tigers. Well. He was proud of them. He told them so, in a croaking scalded voice most unlike his own.
They came out onto the deck , blinking in the light. He watched as they tugged shirts back on. His own neckerchief had been tied around his brow. It was stiff with filth. He wrung the sweat from it, fixed it right. He went down the line, inspecting, looking at hands, eyes. Men could be injured, could fight on, bleed out, and not even feel it, in the tumult of the guns.
They looked back at him, checking on him too. It was not disrespectful. It violated no Naval law. It was just that he belonged to them. He was their Mr. Hornblower.
All seemed well. There were a few crushed fingers. There were some burns which would heal into the anonymous white scars that they all carried. The blood proved benign. Oldroyd had gotten a nosebleed of heroic tiger proportions, gotten it everywhere.
“Boarding parties away. Mr, Kennedy, Mr Cleveland, take your divisions and accompany the Marines. Report back when all is secure.”
Captain Pellew had a voice as solid and dark brown as an oak trunk. Horatio had heard one of the youngest ships boys say once that God must have a voice like Captain Pellew. Nobody had mocked the child. They knew what he meant. It was a voice that steadied men, in a world that tilted. It was something to clap onto, something confident and implacably just.
They had been back on the Indy a month now. Drills and watches kept them busy. The wardroom was welcoming and kind. The older men were tolerant, They had even had a few nights of stolen lovemaking in their new quarters. Horatio was content. But he had found that Archie slept poorly, ate little. Someone who knew him less well, would not have noticed his eyes were dull. But Horatio watched, out of love and habit. Now, in safety, Archie dreamed of France. He would not speak of it, even to Horatio.
So it would have wicked to wish Archie back. It would have been wrong to want to keep him from his duty. It would have been most wicked of Horatio in the face of the orders coming from the dark brown voice. And it would have been wrong to take it from Archie.
He could not wish to take this, not when Archie was almost dancing with eagerness, cutlass in hand, his face intent. Cleveland was checking his pistol. Horatio let his eyes close in a long blink. When he opened them Archie was gone.