Title: That RiskAuthor Eglantine_br
Rating G-- some off page goreSpoilers None
Word Count 1014Disclaimer Only Dr H is mine,
They walked back, as the sun went
down. Archie was relatively dry, although his hair had dripped water
all down the back of his shirt. Horatio was rather damper. They were
both pleasantly sore between the legs.
The Hornblower house was at the top of
a small rise. As they advanced toward the hill Archie saw only the
gold all around as the sun seemed to poise at the horizon. He and
Horatio were holding hands, loosely. Archie noticed that Horatio had
fallen in step with him. They usually did that after they had walked
some distance together. It made things more easy. Archie had somewhat
shorter legs. (Well, most people did, Horatio's legs were quite
extravagantly long.) And Archie was done with being rushed.
Horatio's hand was warm and right,
twined with his. There was no one to see, so why not. It felt good to
walk together that way.
So he felt the change. He felt the
moment, as they crested the rise, when Horatio's hand went rigid.
Horatio's steps quickened, his face was tense.
“What is it?” Archie asked it
quietly. He was moving faster now, faster than he liked, to keep up.
“Father's clothes--” Horatio
pointed. “He stripped off on the doorstep, see. It means, well, it
means trouble usually. Contagion, or-- that.”
And now, nearly at the door, Archie
could smell blood. Blood and vinegar. The doctor's clothing was
soaked with both. The smell struck him like a blow.
“Horatio, I-- “ and he stopped,
sweating now, and miserably retching.
“Sorry,” Archie muttered.
“S'all right,” said Horatio. “We
can go in around the back.”
Archie nodded. He would have agreed to
almost anything just then, only not to have to explain. But he knew
it was at best a short reprieve. Horatio had missed nothing. He would
wait, and he would be kind and gentle, but he would have the truth.
He would know, before the night was over why Archie was offended to
illness by the smell of vinegar. He knew it was not the blood that
troubled Archie. Nobody on a frigate could be disturbed by that.
They came through the door to the
front room. This was the more formal room, that Dr. Hornblower rarely
used. Horatio went through at speed, trotting directly for the
kitchen. Archie hustled in his wake.
The doctor sat at the kitchen table.
His head was low, but he looked up as they came in, and smiled. He
was wearing a dressing gown. His face was loose with fatigue. He
blinked, and Archie realized that the man's spectacles were spotted
with fine droplets of blood.
“Hello boys.” His voice was quiet.
“I am glad to see you both.” He smiled at Archie with the
particular warmth that he never neglected. “Please sit down, Mr
“Horatio, my dear,” doctor said,
“would you make me some coffee?”
“Yes, of course, father.”
Horatio moved about the little kitchen
with assurance, coaxing up the fire, fussing with boiling water.
Within a few moments, he placed a pot of hot coffee on the table,
along with three cups.
He stood back a moment, watching his
father with a narrow expression that Archie knew from sea. That was
how Horatio looked up at the sails and judged the wind. This was a
ritual, Archie realized, a series of words and actions that both
knew, down to the marrow of their bones. There was wordless love
here, rising like steam from the cups. It made Archie ache in some
corner of himself he had forgotten.
Horatio must have reached a decision.
He reached behind himself for something that clattered. With the
efficient movements of long practice, he began frying eggs.
“I saw the doorstep.” Horatio said.
The gray head nodded tiredly. “You
remember Tabby North?”
Horatio turned to Archie, including
him. “Tabby-- She was a friend of my childhood. She's Mary's
niece. Mary used to bring her sometimes.”
Horatio sat down. He took a deep
breath. “Is she dead, Father?”
“No. When I left this morning she was
still with us. Her infant was not so fortunate.”
“Baby.” Horatio said it flat, but
he sounded a little stunned.
“Yes. She married the blacksmith last
year. The one out on New Lane.”
“The old man with the birthmark?”
The doctor snorted gently into his
coffee. “Old man-- He is no more than 50, Horatio. He is a decent
man, a good provider. And he's been married before-- twice. I am
sure he's kind to her. You cannot expect to grow to manhood yourself,
and have your friends stay the children they were.”
“I know, I... It is just. What
happened to her?”
Archie had followed so far, but he was
lost now. The blacksmith, the birthmark, so far so good. But cannons
had no place in this. He would ask later.
“Packing soaked in vinegar may
prevent corruption of the blood.” Dr Hornblower shrugged. “At
least some people think so. New thinking. I thought to try it, not
much to loose. Poor girl. But she may live. She may.”
Dr. Hornblower finished his coffee in a
series of long swallows. He put the cup down. The eggs were gone, he
set the plate down for Cloud to lick. Horatio slid his own untouched
cup across the table. The doctor drank that too. Again, Archie had
the feeling he was seeing something they had done many and many times
before. Horatio, the doctors son, cooking eggs and listening, years
before Archie had ever met him... Of course it was so. Why not? The
love Archie saw was pure and right. No reason at all it should make
his soul itch like a half forgotten dream. No reason at all for it to
ache with loneliness.