Word Count 800
Horatio had been third.
Major Edrington had gone first, cool and perfect. He had given Horatio a not-quite-bow as he left. He and Archie had been alone in the wardroom, in the new silence. Horatio felt disinclined to talk.
After a little bit had Edrington popped his head around the doorway, “Your turn Mr Kennedy,” And Archie got up and left. Horatio was by himself. He had coffee, but it did not warm him. He had reached the bitter bottom of his cup.
He had his head on the mess table when Archie came back. He was not weeping, not sleeping, he was looking at his wrist, and the shadow where it met the dark cuff of his jacket. He heard Archie's step, and he did not lift his head. He could smell the sweat and powder on himself. There was blood, her blood, on his cuff, he thought it still speckled the back of his hand. He did not want to look at that though. He had turned his hand the other way so he did not see it.
He heard Archie's feet, padding, changing the quiet again. “He wants to see you, Horatio.” Archie 's hand came down, soft and kind, on the back of Horatio's neck. And Horatio lifted his head, drew breath, went to do as he was told.
Pellew did not rebuke him, did not say he had been a fool.
“Why Sir?” Horatio asked, and the tears came then. “We were not wanted.”
Duty. It was the answer, of course it was, though it suited them ill.
He came out blinking, his cheeks still red and stiff with tears. Pellew had drawn him close, embraced him as a father would do, had chided him for his uniform.
“Go below now, and sleep,” he said. “ I have instructed Mr Kennedy to do the same. Neither of you are on the watch-bill tonight.”
He turned to leave the room, his head floating light, his feet down below somewhere, numb and distant and cold.
Archie was waiting outside in the passageway.
“Come Horatio.” He fell in, to walk by Horatio's side.
The door shut behind them. Archie turned him, gentle but certain, pushed him back against the bulkhead door.
“I should have been there--” The words were coming, as the tears had, and he could not stop them.
“I should have been there with you Archie. But I tried, and then I couldn't leave and--”
Archie's hand was soft, come up to cover his mouth.
“I assume that you did not, in fact, fuck her?” The question was a cool one. Archie was self-mocking, but his lips were shaking.
“God no! I did not think of it!”
“Well, Honeybee. If you did not think of it, I daresay you are the only one.”
“I know, I know.” And Archie drew him close, close and down to the decking beneath the hammocks.
“I wanted to keep her safe.”
“I know you did.”
“Is that what you thought? You were at the bridge and you thought I --”
“No, no. I did not think that. No, hush. Come here, Horatio.”
Archie pushed himself to sit against the wall. He settled Horatio's head into his lap.
“You lost two men of your division,” Horatio said.
“Aye, I did.” Archie's hands were pushing the sticking hair back off Horatio's face.
“Damroth and Fitz,” Archie specified. “They were good lads.”
Edrington's men had carried them back. Tomorrow they would be sent to the sea.
“You came and got me,” Horatio said.
“Course I did.”
“Thank you.” His nose was blocked now. The sound of it seemed to amuse Archie. Horatio heard a chuckle in the dim above his head.
“Edrington does not know much at all about the Navy,” Archie said. “ He told the old man that I should be written up for gallantry, in the Naval Gazette.”
“I think he's right.”
“Don't be silly. Now, do you want your hammock? Or shall we stay here on the hard deck?”
“If you stay, I will. If you can sleep, I mean. I sleep better when I can smell you.”
This last Horatio said quiet. It sounded foolish, but foolish was all right between them. Archie never minded foolish.
He yawned. He could in fact smell Archie. Archie smelled of smoke and sweat, and Horatio knew he was the same. There would be time to wash when they had slept. There would be time to eat, and think and to work. The day would come, with bells and orders. It would be diminished by those they had lost.