Title: To save the world entire
Rating G but not nice
Word Count 1156
To Save the World Entire
Horatio thrust his chair back with a scrape. He was out the door and into the hallway before he allowed himself to think. His breath was heaving, rasping. He leaned a moment against the wall. This was a shabby hallway, no wider than a passageway on the Indy. It was not the way he had come in. There was dust here, and cobwebs. This part of the villa had been unused, perhaps for years.
Behind him he heard a bark of laughter, and the scrape of cutlery. A door banged. The girl had fled ahead of him. Drawing a deep breath, Horatio went after her.
She was folded small on the doorstep, her head down, face covered. He could see her bones beneath the worn dress. She had heard his footfalls then, and even her breath stopped . Then she drew the air deep, steeling herself to face him. Her face was wet, but the tears were anger, and he could see her lip folded back from her small even teeth.
“Oh, It is you, Mr Hornblower,” She said. His name sounded strange in her mouth. It came out as 'Ornblowear.'
“Are you all right, Miss?” The question was inadequate.
She pushed the tears from her face with the heels of her hands.
“They think us animals,” she said.
“ I am sorry for that, Miss.” Horatio said. ” He kept his voice low and easy, he moved to sit beside her.
“I can assure you that many do not think so. I-- I do not think it.”
“You have been kind to me, Sir. I thank you for it,” Out beyond the trees they could hear the fall of the blade. Mariette shuddered.
“This was my town.” She made a gesture, flapping and awkward. “But now--”
“I want to help,” Horatio said.
“Is that why you are here, Mr Hornblower?” It was not a sneer exactly. “You are here to help?”
“I am here to do my duty.”
“Your duty Sir? And what is that?”
And to that, Horatio found he had no answer.
“At least let me escort you home,” he said. It sounded lame, even to him.
“You cannot keep me safe.”
“While I am here you are under my protection.”
She shook her head, but she stood up, dusting her hands down her apron in the gesture of a woman turning to her work. There was a deep bruise on the back of her hand, blue in the last of the sunlight.
Horatio walked beside her, his own hands went behind his back, out of habit. It felt more comfortable now to put them so. The light was glancing pale in the trees. He could smell the land, and the evening coming, warm. They walked together. She was tiny and thin, beside him, barely up to his shoulder, in her wooden shoes.
The door creaked as she opened it. It was dim inside.
“You live in the schoolhouse?” Horatio asked.
“Oh—look what they have done!” Mariette darted past him. Now Horatio could see the books thrown about and the paces where the feet had stamped to destroy.
“The books--” She was picking them up, tenderly, setting them back on a little high shelf.
“We are not animals, Mr Hornblower,” she said again. “I live in the schoolhouse, yes, to keep the books safe, to teach the children.”
She came up with the last book in her hand, reached to put it away. When she came down, she was facing Horatio, close to him. It was so easy for him to reach around her shoulders, to gather her in. She moved full against him, her head tucked under his chin. He could feel her ribs and the wings of her back. He had never held a woman so. Her small breasts flattened softly against him, strange, but not unpleasant.
He let her rest his chin on her head. She burrowed against him. It seemed to help her. He thought it must be helping her. But the voices outside her door made her jump and twitch. He tightened his embrace, felt her sigh a little.
“My town smells of blood,” she said. Her nose sounded blocked.
They stood long moments, in the center of the room. She was pressed tight against him. Finally, she stepped back. Her hand, small and rough, came up to rest on his face.
“You have been kind to me, Mr Hornblower,” she said again.
“Mariette,” he tried.
Her mouth quirked in a smile. He realized he had not seen her smile before. Still, her eyes were solemn, searching his face
The touch of her mouth against his should not have been a surprise. Still, it startled him. The warm softness of it, the strangeness, was all one of the long strange day. He did not open his mouth to hers. Maybe she knew nothing of kissing that way.
“I did not think to ask,” Horatio said, “Have you eaten? I have some bread in my pocket.”
“Yes, I ate in the kitchens,” She said. “You should eat your own bread. Do you have butter in your pocket as well, Sir?”
And really, that was almost a joke. He smiled.
So they were both smiling when the rap on the door came. The French was nothing he had learned from his books, but the threat and the ugly demand was quite clear. Mariette cowered, covering her face with her bruised hands.
He opened the door, with his naked cutlass in hand. The man was drunk, stinking. One of his eyes was swollen shut, crusted yellow.
“Ou est la--”
“Go away.” Horatio put all the outrage he had into the growl.
“Your pardon, M'sieu, of course. Officers first.” The man stumbled away with a leering giggle.
Horatio turned back to Mariette.
“I am afraid to sleep,” She said, miserably. “I am afraid of them.”
Horatio pulled the chair around to face the door.
“I will stay here,” He said. “Go to sleep. I will make sure you are safe.”
“Oh, but 'Oratio—” She shook her head, but she was yawning.
“I will sit right here, I don't-- I won't even look at you.”
And he did not. Horatio settled into the chair with his feet braced against the door. He could hear the small ruffling sounds of her settling to her rest. The night grew more quiet. Everyone had either passed out or gone to ground. Somewhere, unconcerned, an owl called. He had the cutlass by his side, the primed pistol in his lap. After some time he dozed too.