Title: That Love's Shadow
Word Count 700
That Love's Shadow
“I think I--”
The sound of the fighting flowed around Horatio, but he heard only the roaring in his ears. His arms around Archie, on this strange improper deck. His hands sticky with Archie's blood.
“I seem to have--”
Archie tried again. His face was clenched against the pain, his free hand clamped against his upper arm.
“Let me see--”
Horatio backed them against the taffrail. He slid the jacket off. Archie's shirt was drenched bright. Blood pattered between his fingers to the deck.. Archie had his own gaze averted, his mouth tight.
“Its is bleeding a lot,” Horatio said. “But I think the ball passed through. Can you move your hand?”
He dared a glance up. Yes the boarding was over. They had taken the ship. Bracey, panting, shining, accepting and returning the Frenchman's sword.
Archie wiggling his fingers, gulped.
“Need to sit,” he whispered. Horatio caught him as he sagged.
“We'll get you to the surgeon in a minute. He should have a look.”
Archie shook his head firmly. “Quarters.” He said “You. You can look.”
Archie was sweating now, though the day was crisp. His lips were gone the color of dirty paper. Get him to his hammock, Horatio thought, argue with him later.
The other ship was made fast to the Indy. She had been sea-worthy when they sighted her, but that had been hours ago. She had resisted. There would be work to do, now to repair her deck, and step a new mast. The French Captain was advising, chewing his mustache in sorrowful distraction.
“Here you go, Sirs.”
Styles helped them across the gap to the Indy. He did not miss Archie's wince. Horatio saw Styles' kind face furrow. Styles would remember. Someone would wipe the blood from the deck here too. All the way to a lowly lieutenants door. They would bible the whole way if they had to do so. It would be done as duty, and kindness also. Horatio need not think of it, beyond an estimation of volume lost.
Door shut behind them.
“Down you go.”
Down was easy, Archie lolled against the bulkhead. Horatio folded beside him foolish and angular. “Seems we've been here before.” He said. He was ripping at the shirt now, pulling it over the good arm, and over Archie's head.
The wound was on the outside, flowing, not spurting, but bad enough. Horatio could see the burned edges, the discolored margins of the wound.
Horatio reached behind himself blindly, fumbled in his sea-chest. Bandages. They all kept them ready.
He wrapped them on tight, round and round until the stain was obscured, waited. It came through again, sluggish now. He went around again. Secured the ends.
“There now, how is that?”
Horatio held him as he retched.
“Sorry H'ratio. Don't know why I--”
“S'all right. Come here.”
“Got watch tonight.”
“I'll stand your watch, Archie. You can take one of mine some other day.”
He pulled the blankets down to the deck, as they had done so often before. So many times they had rolled together in shuddering fierce-whispered love. This was that love's shadow.
Horatio pulled off his own shirt, tucked the blankets close. He pressed his heat against Archie's back, wrapped his arms, careful. He felt the sigh, as the shivering stopped. He felt the first breath of healing sleep.
Horatio put his head down, and let his own eyes shut. He imagined the torn muscles, the blood vessels, the outraged skin. He saw in his mind how it would scab, itch, heal. Finally there would be nothing left but a discolored dip of a scar. He had one himself, where Simpson had shot him, so long ago now. Archie caressed him there, sometimes, gently in the dark. A kiss of fingers, where words need not go. In time this would be new geography, to learn with his hands his mouth. It would live behind his eyes in his chart of Archie. It would be all right.