Title: Never Wasted
Word Count 559
“ Wh timzit?”
His eyes slitted open reluctantly, but there was no light to burn them.
He could see Archie only as a thing of silver and shadow. Archie balanced easily,with one foot up, wearing only his shirt now, and tugging at his stocking. Horatio could smell the wetness of the boat-cloak, slung over Archie's sea-chest. That sheepy smell of wet wool was mingled inextricably with his first memories of Archie.
“Just done Midwatch, and still raining like a bitch.” Archie said. His voice was quiet. He wrong his stockings out, spread them on the deck to dry.
“You have four hours, Honeybee.” Archie said. “You should go back to ...sleep.” He spoke around his own yawn, sudden and wracking.
But Horatio was already sitting up. “Come here, I'll do your feet.” Horatio said.
“You sure,? I mean--”
“Course I'm sure “
“You don't have to--”
“Come here Archie.”
Two could sit in a hammock, with care. Horatio leaned back against the headstrings, legs draped over each side. Archie leaned back the other way, and settled his feet in Horatio's lap. The hammock creaked, but it held.
Archie's skin was waxy with cold. Horatio moved them up under his nightshirt, against the skin of his belly. He clapped hold of Archie's ankles to keep them there. Horatio's skin twitched in protest, but now he could bring his hands around to the thin fine skin of the foot tops, and warm those too. He was careful to keep his touch firm and predictable. He was careful not to tickle. He was careful too, around the scars. He knew on nights like this, that they burned and ached. Other parts of Archie's feet were numb. Dr Hornblower had said they might always be so.
These were the scars of Archie's imprisonment. These were body memory of chains, of rocks. These were the marks left by brutality, dust and blood. They were all Horatio's fault – all. Archie never said they hurt. He had not admitted such weakness since Spain. But Horatio knew, and sometimes Archie consented to such comfort. Not always. Sometimes he refused and that was that. He had always been as skittish as a cat about having his feet touched.
Horatio felt the soft prickle of tears in his throat. He lifted the nearer foot, and pressed his mouth to the arch. Archie twitched in protest, subsided, and sighed.
Horatio let his thumbs find the hollow behind the ankle, he let his fingers learn again the strength of Archie's bones.
He had the salve ready. Archie gave a silly sleepy smile at the sight of it. “Wasted on my feet,” he murmured.
“No, no. Not wasted,” Horatio said. “Never that.”
Archie was warmer now, the sturdy muscle alive again under Horatio's hands. He thought about continuing his ministrations, he thought about knees, thighs, and beyond. Archie would not complain. He would certainly say-- but no.
Archie was silver and black in the diffuse light. He still had the silly smile in place, even as he snored. Horatio's departure did not wake him, thought the hammock rocked. Horatio's kiss to his nose did not wake him either.
And Archie's hammock was as good as his own. Horatio slept.