Title Hot Water
Word Count 1769
The food came first.
“I gave you both the chicken, Sir.” The girl was clean and pretty. Her apron was spotless, and her hands were quick and clean. But she seemed stricken with shyness. She barely dared to look Archie in the eye.
The trays were covered with tin domes to keep the heat in, and they were reassuringly heavy.
“Thank you, Miss, ” Archie said. “This is for you.” he gave her a smile with her coin, and that seemed to make things worse for her. She blushed, bobbed, and fled.
“I guess that this settles the question of bath first, or food first.” Archie said.
Horatio nodded. He was still lurking in the back of the room. He was covered, better than decently, in trousers and a shirt, but Archie knew that Horatio was sure he would offend female sensibility without a waistcoat, and shoes. (The doctor's Mary did not count of course, she had bathed him as a baby.) Archie knew there was no point in saying that the serving girl had seen less well favored men, wearing worse, and probably doing worse.
But Horatio came forward, once the door shut, eager enough for the food. They were both hungry. Archie stripped his own clothing off. He let it splat soggily to the floor, and he sat down in his drawers to eat. It would be men, after all, who brought the heavy bath and water.
The fire warmed his back, and the food was very good. Something inside of Archie had been wound tight these last few days-- happy as he had thought himself. He felt it only now.
He was happy on the Indy, and anything at all was better than the past. He even liked being at sea. There was a stringent clarity to the rigging and the calculus of sailing. The ship bent itself to the immutable laws, wind and tide, and pressure, speed and weight. Archie found that reassuring. And on the days when-- well, on the bad days-- the sea and the sky made him feel that there was something clean on the planet, even if it could not be him.
So, back to sea tomorrow. And rightly. But not without some regret. They could steal time together, on the Indy, they managed to kiss most days. They touched hands at night, as they swung in their canvas. Sometimes, greatly daring, they lay together in quivering gasping silence-- breaking the laws of God and man.
Only in Kent could they reach and touch, almost whenever they wanted. It was so easy there to slip out of sight. There was no one to demand duty of them, almost no fear of being caught. And in the Hornblower house they could sleep together all night. In Horatio's bed they could touch, slow and loving, without hurry, without the beating wings of need. It was a paradise, set apart from the rest of the world.
This was a night of storm and fear for sailing men at sea. Beyond the dark shore men were struggling. But there was nothing to be done about it. There was no way to help. Tomorrow the Indy would come back for them. And they would be dressed in uniform, ready to go and to give both hands to the King. This night was a gift, unasked for. Archie was damned if he would feel guilty for it.
Horatio was sitting on the other side of the fire. His face was lit with cream and pink, and his eyes dark with shadow. His hair was coming loose to curl, and he pushed it back, with a rapid swipe of his hand. He looked up from his plate, and saw Archie watching him, and smiled, soft and a little puzzled. He was still eating, Archie was too, filling in the corners now with crisp ale and bread and butter.
By the time the bathtub came they were creaking full.
It was carried in by older men, who spared neither of them a second glance, simply filled it, and left, in silence.
The tub was tin, nothing fancy, but it was large and the water was hot.
You go first.” Archie was indolent by the fire, sprawled in his under-drawers. And he wanted to watch Horatio in the bath.
“All right.” Horatio said. He stripped off his shirt, and trousers, placed them on the chair. Turned from the fire, Horatio was chilled. Archie could see it in the fine hairs risen on his arms, in the way his skin was stippled. His belly was tight, his balls drawn close. Another moment and he would be shivering.
Archie watched, as he stepped into the dark water.
Horatio was a splashy bather. He was tidy in most of his actions, unlike Archie. And he was not clumsy in ordinary life, but give him a tub, Archie thought, and he would have half the water on the floor in no time. He reminded Archie of a robin in a birdbath. He applied himself to his washing with verve. He was not looking at Archie now; and Archie with the light behind him was in shadow anyway. But Archie could see Horatio clearly. And why was it that this humble activity moved him? He felt the heat in his own body, inside him now, wanting to touch, even as his throat ached with tears.
Horatio's hair had snaked down his shoulders, ink against white. He clawed it forward, to try to soap his neck.
“Let me, Honeybee.”
Archie knelt. Pressed against the side of the tub, he was soaked instantly. There was a puddle under his knees. Horatio's skin was slick and hot. The water purled around him, as he leaned forward. Archie could feel the little bones of his neck, beloved beneath the skin. Archie rested his cheek there a moment. He felt Horatio sigh.
This was good soap, it foamed as soap at sea never could, and the bubbles and the smell of it were land and luxury.
He let his hands go down the arc of Horatio's back and side. Horatio was folded now with his head on his knees. His eyes were closed, the fan of his lashes, ridiculously long against his wet cheeks, his face was unlined and young.. Archie could feel, under his fingers, the little circled scar, from the long ago duel with Simpson. He let his fingers touch, careful, gentle. This pain had been Horatio's to bear alone. Archie had not been there to help, to comfort. Horatio had suffered it thinking Archie dead.
Now Horatio's hand came to cover his own. “Long ago.” Horatio said. His voice was gruff, and it rubbed Archie like a gripping hand.
“I know.” Archie caressed, all along the exposed side. Horatio was ticklish here, but neither of them were laughing tonight.
“God, that feels... oh”
Horatio leaned back, warm, wet, and heavy. He twisted to kiss Archie, nipping and rubbing under Archie's jaw. Archie found himself planting one hand in the tub, to keep from falling. That was the extent of his logical thought.
“I can take my bath in the morning” Archie rasped.
Horatio rose from the water with a final heroic splash. Archie had a moment of sorrow for the room beneath theirs. Then Horatio was drawing him close, and all thought fled.
Horatio's hands were in the small of his back, caressing, warming. Their wet bellies slid. Archie felt his own head fall back, exposing his throat. Horatio's mouth was so soft and warm and his teeth so sharp. Archie felt a small sound rise in him. His own skin was raised in bumps and Horatio's hands were sliding over him. They moved across the room together, baths and food and fires forgotten.
He eased Horatio back to sit on the bed, but when Horatio drew him forward he shook his head.
He sank to his knees.
“Let me.” Archie wanted to do this. He stroked Horatio's knees, his shuddering thighs. Horatio nodded, his eyes were wide, his lip caught in his teeth.
“Let me do this-- I want to-- oh, H'ratio--”
Archie combed his hands through the cloud of soft hair, not touching the cock, but either side of it. Tiny droplets of bathwater clung there, trembling like dew. Horatio was thrusting slightly, There were sounds and words in him, held back, restrained. Archie would draw them forth, in his own time, in his own power. It had not always been so, and not always Horatio beneath his mouth. But ugly memories could not catch him here. A swipe of Archie's tongue, and Horatio fell back.
“So good, Archie.” they could speak here, the storm was pounding the windows, beating against the walls. It had given them one last night of words for love and need and thanks.
Archie brought his mouth down. Horatio was rigid, hips lifted now. Archie pushed him back against the bed, held him strong. He let his mouth go soft and open, he let Horatio push into the heat.
“Oh that.” Horatio whispered. “That now, oh, when you. Like that.”
His head was tossing, his hair wet and disheveled. His own mouth was red and open, working and seeking at nothing.
Archie knew ways to rush this. He knew how to force the spill, but her had never done that with Horatio. These moments were rare enough, he wanted more more always. But it was almost over now. Horatio was beyond even nonsense speech. And there, against Archie's tongue, the thrill in the vein. Horatio gasped, and the flood came.
It was only a few heartbeats before Horatio drew him up. He drew Archie close and warm. Horatio smiled, a little cross-eyed.
Horatio's mouth came, soft on Archie's, kissing. Archie safe, and warm and utterly known, rolled in his arms, pushing and pressing. The slide of it, the skin, the hand the hand. The storm was still drumming the rain against the window, and the sound was driving it all higher, better.
“Please.” Archie said, and his voice broke high, and he was lost, but Horatio had him safe.
He was almost asleep. He felt Horatio draw the blankets up, flap them sensible. Then came the homely puff of the candle going out.
“I think we'll both need to bathe in the morning.” Horatio whispered. “Do you think we can ask for new water?”