Title: He Who is Dry Cork
Word Count 461
He Who is Dry Cork
He had no fear of blows, or worse, coming out of the dark. He could strip his clothing to wash, without fear or shame. His body was his own, and Horatio loved it. No one beat him now, no one mocked him now. His value was known. There were no chains here.
Archie allowed his eyes to shut when the dark came, and he let his mind turn to sleepy pleasant things. He rocked in his canvas cocoon. The space for two lieutenants was small. They were close enough to hold hands. They were close enough for Archie to stroke the tense canvas that covered Horatio's side. This was touching, and not touching. This distant caress was more intention than fact. Horatio, yawning, petted Archie through his hammock the same way.
This was the waking world. Sleep was not so simple.
Some nights, still, he came up gasping like a gaffed fish. Some dreams he was so lost in the past that his shout woke Horatio. They ended those nights on the deck, together. Horatio gave up his own good rest, without complaint, and he drew Archie close, into the smell of his skin, the circle of his arms.
And then, some nights, were like this one. He had been in a comfortable nowhere, when, with no warning, his body and mind threw him awake. The fear was overwhelming, childish, shameful. He had no dream to frame it, it had no edges or words of meaning. He was sweating. He could smell the stink of fear on his skin. His mouth was dry. His breath was sobbing quietly, but his eyes were dry too. He had not made a sound, Horatio slept on, untroubled.
Here in the dark, Archie knew what the small and harmless know. If he held still enough, if he trembled in the most careful silence, he would be safe. He drew his knees up, he pulled his arms close. He shook, but his breathing was slowing now, and after a moment of fierce struggle, he found that he could think. He paced his breathing Horatio's. He waited for the worst to pass him by.
It would pass, it was just the body and its foolishness. Archie-inside would endure. He had not made a sound. No one had to know. Not ever, not even Horatio. He could move his arms now, the rigid clench of muscle was passing. He passed his hands over himself, face, chest, groin, legs, feet. This was not a self-caress. This was something more like an inventory. His own poor body; All present and sober.
Horatio slept on. Archie waited. It would pass, day would come. No one had to know.