Title By Degrees
Word Count 684
“You bested me.” He said, but he smiled as he said it. His limbs felt full of honey. He was happy, but so awfully tired. He dozed. Far away the sounds came to him, Horatio shaving and dressing. He knew each tiny rumple, each step, each splash.
Horatio's kiss was cool on his brow. Horatio smoothed his hair, his blanket, turned the pillow for him, soothing under his cheek.
“I'll be back at 8 bells,” Horatio's voice at his ear, soft and ticklish. “Go back to sleep.”
His arm was sore. It beat like a laboring heart. The bandage burned, he was cold.
By degrees he felt worse. Worse, and alone and horribly thirsty. The place where his thoughts lived was a bilge which tilted sluggishly as he breathed He tried not to look, it made his head spin. Horatio had made things better. He wished Horatio would come back. But he was alone, and he began to float. A part of him came away. It watched, without feeling, waited for Horatio's step, as child does, or a dog.
He was watching from above. Away below there was a jolly boat in a freezing sea. He could see the small man curled there, so wet and cold. And was it all to be done again? Archie wept, dry hacking sounds flattened by sleep, and he did not know it.
He did not hear the footsteps. He lost that bit. But the hand came back. It smelled of Horatio. It was Horatio's hand. It drew Archie close, wool against his face now, so much better, and the hand pushing back his sticky hair.
“Shh—s'all right. Archie you were dreaming.”
“Do I have to do it again? I will. I will if you say-- but I--”
“Shh. No, shhh. Archie you have a fever. All you have to do is rest and get better.”
He let himself subside. Horatio stayed where he was and the wool stayed, and the hand petting him .
After some time there was another voice. It was an important voice, and he felt he should at least open his eyes. But he was slow, and the thought slid away.
Strong hands were pulling his arm away from his body, and he shivered. So cold. He tried to pull the arm back against his chest. He wanted to huddle with his own meager warmth. But the hands stretched the arm out and made it hurt. He gathered himself to whisper “Don't'.
The Horatio hand soothed him, and held a cup to his mouth.
“Drink, Archie.” Horatio said. And so he did. Horatio had given him water once, long ago when he was thirsty. He had not wanted to drink then, he remembered that. But he had, and the water had been good. But this was not water. It was thick and bitter and horrible.
Whatever the drink was, it made the floating easier. All of Archie was floating now-- high as a pennant in a fair wind.
Somebody was squeezing at his arm. That was down below, in his bilge, in the dizzy dark.
But now there was a big hurt. It was sharp and bright. He could not keep away above. He fell hard, into the pain and then away, away.
Archie opened his eyes, the light dazzled and swooped. He had a glimpse of a Horatio shape sitting in the hammock next to his.
“Did they take my arm?” Everything hurt.
“No.” A smile in the voice, he did not need to see. Horatio slow and kind, explaining.
“Your arm is still there, but they had to cut it to get the corruption out. It will heal though.”
“You gave me something to drink.”
“I am surprised you remember. You were out of your head, Archie.”
“It tasted horrible.”
“Well, you get another dose in four hours.”
“Hmm-- will you stay until then?”