itle: On going home (Chapter2)
Characters: Archie, Horatio,
Rating: PG for thoughts
Word Count: 1857
Disclaimer: I did not invent these people
ON GOING HOME (CHAPTER 2)
“It looks as if my father is not home.” Horatio said. He sounded unsurprised by this. Archie admitted to himself that he felt relieved. Horatio himself seemed oblivious about the nature and depth of Archie's affection for him, but the doctor might be more observant. Archie knew he would have to be very careful.
Horatio trotted ahead chattering and lighting lamps. It smelled pleasantly of wood smoke, and warmth. Archie was torn... He had never been in a house like this one. He was well familiar with the sprawling estates, and the town-homes of the great. He had gone visiting as a child, with his father. Archie knew how to act the presentable youngest son of the earl. And he had been in the shared rooms, in London, of his theater connections. Those had been full of laughing squalor. He knew how to act there too. But this was different. This really mattered. He wanted to look around the house He wanted to know all the dim corners. He wanted time to imagine Horatio as a child here, he wanted to see everything, add it to his precious store of Horatio-knowledge, to hug to himself, through the night. Horatio had no idea.
“We should go to father's study.” Horatio said. “He may have left our house-keeper, Mary, a note saying where he has gone. If so, it will be there. Also, Archie, there are books.” Books, there were, a whole wall of them. But no note. Horatio made up the fire, and they subsided to the couch.
“It seems so strange to be here,” Horatio said. “I keep thinking that if I close my eyes for a moment, I will be back on Justinian.” He sighed. “My father has gone out on a call, no doubt. It is likely that he will not return until morning. I suppose I should make up the beds in a moment. I thought you could share my room – there are two beds.” He added this last in a helpful tone.
“It sounds fine, Horatio.” Archie said. “After all, we've shared a room all along, on Justinian.” Archie could hardly say that sharing a room was all that he had been thinking of, and that the prospect of sharing anything here felt entirely different. “At least, if we talk in the night no one will tell us to shut up.”
“And if we get laughing no one will threaten to tell Eccleston.”
“Right. And if I were to do this, you won't fall onto the deck!” Horatio accompanied this last this a thrust of his stocking-covered foot. Archie clutched his abdomen, laughing already.
“Well.” said Horatio, relenting, “ I guess there is no hurry. What have you got to read there?” Archie held up the book with a sheepish smile. “Anatomy! Archie.”
“Well...I can read Shakespeare on the ship,”
“True...” Horatio moved closer. “Let me see. I think I remember this book.”
Is this where you learned the bones of the face?” Archie asked softly. He kept his eyes down, as if entranced by the etching of the digestive tract. He could not look up, could not look at Horatio here, while they were alone, and remember that night, when he had been beaten so badly, and Horatio had touched him so gently, his fingers soft,as he chanted the bones of the face. Archie had been changed then, forever.
“Yes, well, this book, or one like it. I used to look at father's books often when I was younger. By the way,” Horatio continued, “I expect the pictures you want are at the back. Here.” He reached across Archie's lap, and riffled the pages.
“Horatio! I thought you didn't know about women!”
“I don't. I don't know anything about women. I never know what to say to them, or anything. I've never-- never been alone with one. This is different. This is medicine..”
Archie turned the page at random, and found a diagram devoted to her male counterpart. “Oh.”
“Oh, that one.” Horatio said. “Made me feel worried when I was smaller --- er, younger.”
All in all, Archie thought he might have been safer with Shakespeare.
They read in silence for some time. Archie found that he was unable to concentrate even on the anatomy text. He was wandering in memories of the times Horatio had touched him. Even when Horatio had moved his broken ribs, and it had hurt so much, Archie had felt flooded with sweetness. He could see, in the wavering lamplight, Horatio's dark head, bent over a trigonometry text that no one else would choose for fun. His brow was creased slightly, his arched brows drawn down over is long nose. He knew that Horatio thought his nose a poor feature. He would never know how Archie longed to draw his finger down it, to place a finger in the dear little dent underneath, to lean in for a kiss.
“You know, Horatio,” Archie said, “We could wait until morning to make up that bed. Then you can show me your room, and everything, in the light. I mean to say, we could just stay here. Its very warm.”
“Here on the couch? All right. It is true that the fires are out upstairs. It will be warmer here. And there seems room enough for us both. And that way, too, if my father comes in tonight, you can meet him right away.” Horatio seemed pleased with this idea. Archie was less sure, but at least it would keep him from forgetting himself.
“Are you tired now Archie? I could ---Oh!” Horatio stopped in consternation. He looked appalled.
“What? What is it?” Archie felt a rush of shame, as if his thoughts were visible.
“I forgot to feed you! I never offered you anything to drink, I was just thinking how you would like my father's books, and how long it had been since you had anything new to read. I just forgot completely. I'm so sorry Archie. I never had a house-guest before.” He added this last in a low voice, as if it were a dreadful secret. He looked so distressed that Archie had to laugh.
“It's fine, Horatio. I didn't even notice. But – is there food, do you think?”
Horatio looked at him, confused.
“Of course there is food. Let's go look in the pantry. “
Horatio snatched up the lamp, and led the way. “Mary leaves food for my father that can be eaten cold anytime, on the nights that she doesn't stay to cook. On the nights that he has been out with patients, he comes home at odd hours, and he just wants something easy. When I was very little, Mary used to stay over to watch me. Then when I got older, he used to wake me in the night, and I would cook him eggs, and he'd tell me about his cases.”
“You know how to cook?” To Archie this seemed an arcane skill.
“Well,” Horatio said “I can cook eggs.”
The pantry contained, cold ham, cider, cheese, and bread. Also apples, lightly speckled and delicious to smell.
“I don't know why there is no butter.” Horatio was brow-wrinkling again.
“It's perfect. Can we take it back to the study do you think?”
“Yes, we can put it in this basket.”
Half an hour later, they were more than replete. “I think I can feel my innards creaking.” Archie said. “What made you think we needed butter, you glutton?”
“Arghh!” Replied Horatio, intelligently.
They sat, on the hearthrug and watched the fire sink back to a red smoulder. The rain spit against the window, and soon they were blinking and yawning in turns. If I kiss him now, Archie thought, he will taste of apples.. But then Horatio was packing the basket back up, and the moment had passed.
Silently they stripped down to drawers and shirts. Horatio produced two blankets, worn and soft. Lying head to foot, with legs entangled, it seemed to Archie that he still had more room than in his hammock. No one ever need know how he treasured the feel of Horatio's long leg against his own, and the softness of the couch, and the warm embrace of the little room. The joy filled Archie until his throat ached with tears.
The window was gray with the coming day when Archie woke. His legs were trapped under Horatio. His bladder was very unhappily full. Horatio had burrowed into the cushions of the sofa, his hair was stuck to his cheeks and mouth. He was flushed, and audibly snoring. Archie wiggled experimentally, and resigned himself to wait. He was dozing again, when the noise came.
He heard the door to the house creak open, and was sleepy enough, for a moment, not to know where he was. He heard heavy footsteps approaching. Horatio's house, he told himself, apples, books, rain. Still, four years on Justinian surged up Archie's spine. He froze in fear, and his eyelids slammed shut.
He heard the man stop in the study doorway. Close. The room was small. Archie could hear him breathing. Not Simpson. He told himself. Not Simpson. Not going to hurt you, you fool.
Archie slitted his eyes open, feigning sleep, and he knew that in all the world, he could only be looking at one man. Dr John Hornblower looked nothing like his son. He was running to stout, with thinning colorless hair, and a rather pink face. His eyes were a faded blue, set deep in his face. Taken in parts he was ordinary. But the lines in the beefy face were kind, There was something in the alert posture that was familiar. And his eyes were very very far from stupid. Those eyes were fastened on Horatio now, devouring him.
Oh, son.” He said in a very soft voice, speaking only to himself. He padded forward, and tucked the blanket around Horatio more closely. He stroked Horatio's hair back, with a gesture so practiced and tender that Archie wanted again to weep. Dr Hornblower smiled down at Horatio's untroubled sleep. “Welcome home.” He said.
Then he turned to Archie. Archie felt his body wanting to cringe down into the cushions. Asleep, asleep, I'm asleep. Archie willed his limbs heavy, his face to be slack. He did not move his own, near-shut eyes from the watching face.
“And who are you, stranger?” The soft voice asked of itself. The doctor's hands reached down, and drew the blanket up, as it had with Horatio. And the hands stroked Archie's hair back too, so gently that had he been asleep he would have slept on. The touch did not feel unwelcome, and that was the most astonishing of all.