Title: Floor Plans
Word Count 1644
The fog smelled of horses and smoke. It smelled of land. Horatio fidgeted as he waited. He paced. The marble steps were slippery under the soles of his stiff new shoes. Pellew was not late, of course. A lieutenant’s captain could never be late. He could only be delayed longer than a miserable lieutenant had expected. Horatio burrowed into his new cape. The drizzle had found his neck. His nose was cold.
The big doors opened. Captain Pellew came down through the fog like an angry angel. He moved fast and light for a big man-- . His face was utterly closed. He seemed to be grinding his teeth.
“Come, Mr Hornblower-- we are in haste.”
The coach was warmer. There were hot bricks. There was a lap robe. Horatio burrowed under it and sighed with relief. Pellew gave him a sidelong glace and the bare tip of a smile.
“ Are you somewhat warmer now Mr Hornblower?”
“Aye Sir. Thank you.”
But maybe this had been wrong to say. Pellew's brows contracted. Horatio realized he was not only angry, but for some reason, very very sad.
They sat in silence for some time. The sky darkened outside the coach window. The wind had come up , and the wet trees tossed discontentedly. When the Captain's voice came again it was thick and stuffy, as if his nose was blocked.
“You look very fine in the new uniform, Mr Hornblower. It suits you well.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Horatio let his grin out. And this time, after a moment, his captain smiled gently to return it.
Archie set his glass down. The port was heavy on his tongue. The room was dim, and his head ached. He had been waiting since daybreak, fighting the curdling bleakness.
Now, outside, over the wind, he heard the voices. They were indistinct, but he knew them nonetheless.
There, now at last, Horatio's step upon the ladder-way. Something eased in Archie's chest. The pain he had ignored, the tensing of muscle he had denied all day, eased. It left him breathless.
“Gentlemen—It seems we have a stranger in our midst,” The joy colored his voice. There was no reason to hide it. “No, no--” He corrected himself “It is Mr. Hornblower.”
Horatio stood for the teasing, his face bright with awkward pleasure. Archie circled behind him, leaned close, “Not a patch in sight.” He whispered.
When the laughter began to diminish Horatio lifted a hand. “Captain's compliments--” He said, “And he will see all senior officers, above in--” He glanced at the clock--”15 minutes.”
And so, up the ladder, and aft to the stateroom, and the table that seated them all. Pellew was waiting. Archie took his seat next to Horatio. The captain's voice was warm, but somehow it sounded weary. Archie heard the start of what he said, but after some words, the voice became a gabble in his ears.
Still, Archie could not escape the meaning so easily. It came to him, although he resisted. He felt himself grow small and cold. He began to float. His hold was tenuous, he struggled. He felt his own hands slick with sweat, clenched beneath the table, then he lost even that. He heard his own voice, from far above and outside, the thin sound of it, questioning.
“Mr Kennedy!” Pellew's voice was chiding, “Four ships does not constitute an invasion, Sir.”
After some time, his body stood, and left with the others. Horatio stayed behind. Now Archie saw from above, his small self, in his own new uniform. There was acting lieutenant Kennedy, heading for his quarters. To most eyes he would look fine. He could even essay another joke if need be. Up here he was far above the fear. He felt nothing up here. They could not see he was uninhabited.
He opened the door. He went in. He shut the door. He sat down on his sea-chest. He kept the desk to his back and faced the door. Horatio would come.
Horatio came in, ready to smile. The smile died on his lips. The look that replaced it was kind, but also wary. Horatio came forward slowly, as one does with an unchancy dog. Archie could see himself, from where he was. He could look down at his own bright hair and his own blue clothing. He was a small creature, after all. He would not bite.
Horatio knelt, and he took Archie's cold immobile hands. He lifted them to the warm breath of his lips. He folded them into his own, held them to his own good heat.
“Come back, Archie,” he said. His voice was quiet “Safe, here.”
Archie let out a long breath. It shook him with its leaving. He slumped into his body again. Horatio gathered him close. “There now.” Horatio said. “There now, there, there.” Horatio's hands moved over Archie's back. The touch was slow and it warmed the place where the words had frozen.
“France.” Archie said. He felt Horatio nod, felt Horatio's own breath now, against him, breathing with him.
“Both of us this time.” Horatio said. And if he offered that as comfort, Archie knew he had to make Horatio understand. Archie's head shake was vehement.
“Its not that I fear for myself, Honeybee. Its you-- It is – Oh Christ, we are invading France!” Archie's voice wobbled between weep and giggle.
“Mr Kennedy.” Horatio gave a soft kiss with each word “Four ships...do not constitute.... an invasion...Sir.”
Horatio let his mouth stay on the last word, and it was soft and open.
Archie came forward, to lie beside him, Horatio, holding him close, reached up to pull the blankets from his hammock. They fell with a soft flump.
“We have time.” Archie murmured.
Horatio nodded. He knew Archie's watches as well as he knew his own.
“I have more time than you,” he said. “I'm not on the watch-bill tonight.”
“Lazy creature.” Archie's voice was thin and small, but he smiled a little.
Horatio drew Archie over him, burrowing under waistcoat and shirt. He pulled his own up, to bring their skin together. Archie brought both hands up to steady him, and let the moment enlarge. Horatio's dark eyes looking up at him, this looking that warmed like a touch.
He could feel the hardness, all up along him now, between Horatio's spread thighs. He rocked forward and down, Horatio's eyes closed in a slow blink. The hands were working down the back of Archie's new trousers. Horatio's touch was welcome there now, even there, where the ridges of scars marked the first slope of buttock. It was not a place that wanted touch, but Horatio's hands were welcome always. Horatio did not hurt him.
Archie raised himself, slightly, The trousers slid. He pushed them down his flanks, kicked them off and away. Horatio was doing the same. Time, there might be, but never enough to waste.
There. Now, skin together, and the heat of it between them. Horatio was wide eyed beneath him. Archie could feel the shiver of Horatio's gasp, and the kick of his heart, and still there could be this breathless wonder.
Horatio was skating heat all up his sides. Archie's skin rippled with it, over his hips his ribs, all down his shivering belly. The touch was gentle and maddening. Horatio knew it too. He always knew. Archie could move to bring it closer. He was trying not, wanted it all to last, but Horatio nipped him, sharp on the chin, and he could not help it. He was bucking, shuddering, in the strength of Horatio's clasp.
“Yes. Oh.” Horatio's voice was soft, but his arms and legs drew tight around Archie, and they were both moving now, opposed for a moment, and then together.
“Please--” his own voice asking, breaking high with need.
Horatio understood. His hand, oh the good hand, between them now, gripping him, and the rubbing was better. Better for Horatio too, Archie had a dizzy glimpse of Horatio's mouth open, the dark eyes so wide. Then his own eyes had to shut, and he was pushing forward into the heat of the need.
He came to himself again. . Horatio was three heartbeats behind him, hard and slick. Archie could taste the salt on the crumple of his brow. It looked like pain, but Horatio was whispering “Good, so good.”
Then Horatio was shuddering too, his grip tightened,and Archie felt the wet heat, the cry muffled against his own skin.
They were themselves again-- back from far away. Horatio pulled the blanket over them. He rolled to the side, and drew Archie close. This was delicious, the slow tangle of legs and arms, the slow kisses, as they remembered the rest of life.
“Should get up. Do something.” Horatio murmured, some time later. He was doing his trousers up, and Archie could see that he was clumsy with fatigue.
“We've got time. You could sleep a little, ” Archie said. He had been more quick to put his clothing to rights. They were more aware, after, of the risk.
“Hmm—sleep,” Horatio said. He pillowed his head on his folded arms. He gave Archie a smile of extraordinary sweetness, and he let his eyes shut.
The door was shut. They were safe for now. But Archie would not sleep. He pulled the blanket up over them both. He propped himself up on one elbow. He stretched his hand over Horatio's back. His fingers spread wide, but his hands were too small to cover anyone in safety.
They were going to France.