Title: On Going Home, Chapter 17
Word Count 2070
Disclaimer: I did not invent them
On Going Home, Chapter 17
The sun had moved. The day was moving on inexorably. The last day of leisure, maybe for years. Horatio gave a hard stretch. He felt as if his usual vital liquids had all been drained off, and he had been refilled with something that glowed with warm heat and impeded thinking.
He turned his head to look at Archie. Archie was still curled on his side, brow wrinkled a little in thought. His eyes rested on Horatio, but only out of habit perhaps. Horatio could feel when Archie was really looking at him. That gaze caressed and stroked him, just like Archie's shameless hand. Neither were touching him now.
“What are you thinking Archie?”
“Oh... About Captain Keane. Did he tell you 'Obey orders, do your duty, and no harm will come to you'?
“Yes. Exactly that.”
“Why would he say such a thing when he knows it's not fucking true?” The anger came out of nowhere that Horatio could see.
“Maybe... maybe he doesn't know.” Horatio doubted Archie would go for this, but the day was too lovely to think about anyones failings.
“Oh I think he knew.” Archie's voice was light and vicious. “And even if he did not know specifically what was happening to me, there was rot all around. Justinian is corrupt, Horatio. And he is responsible for everything that happens on her.”
“Oh but--” Horatio began.
“You like him.” Archie interrupted. His voice was scornful. “Despite everything that happened on that ship, despite what happened to you, not to mention to me and poor Clayton, you still make excuses for him.”
“Yes, I do like him.” Horatio said. His voice was hot. “He took me into Justinian as a favor, a kindness to my father. We did not know what to do, Archie. I had no prospects, we could not afford university. Money is a concern here Archie. I know that is unfamiliar to you, but we were frantic. Also Keane is an old man. He is dying. My father says he has lung cancer. And I do not think he knew what was happening to you. But---”
“How could you?” Archie broke in again. His jaw was clenched pugnaciously.
.Horatio was baffled. He reached over the side for his trousers. He could think better with them on. And, regrettably, it did not seem he would be needing them off anytime soon. Archie seemed almost as if he were trying to pick a fight.
This was the last day. He had wanted it to be perfect. He didn't want to feel angry at Archie, not ever. Ten minutes ago he could not have imagined he ever would. The harshness of his own response surprised him. He felt warm toward Captain Keane, true. It was not a crime to know where to be grateful.
He was sitting on the edge of the bed now, looking at the floor. The small noise took him by surprise. It was an odd little gulping sound. It had come from Archie.
Archie was sitting up, still naked, but backed up against the wall now. He was curled up, arms around his knees, feet twisted together. He was pale as ice.
“Archie.” Horatio reached out, just to touch, maybe to kiss. The day was passing. It was almost noon. He wanted to mend this.
Archie cringed. His head ducked and flew up in a gesture so practiced and unintentional that Horatio felt his heart clench.
“Oh, no. Made you angry.” Archie said. “Made you angry. Oh no.” His voice was already draggy and remote.
Horatio drew his hand away slowly. Shoal waters here. He badly needed an Archie-chart.
“Hey.” He reached out very slowly, giving Archie time to see the hand coming. He let his hand make gentle contact, not moving it at all, just letting Archie lean into the heat. It seemed inconceivable that this was the confident laughing lover of an hour before.
“Hey, hey, Archie. Shhh.” Horatio gathered him in. Only comfort now. He rested his chin on Archie's shivering head.
“I'm not angry at you. Not at all. And a week from now, we'll be off Justinian. Never see Keane again, never see any of them.”
Horatio did not dare to invoke Simpson's name. Not now. He was there in the room, in every room. He polluted what should have been joyous, just by having walked the world. (Surely he was dead now, though. If wishes could kill, Simpson had died of sepsis of the chest wall with spinal involvement. Horatio wished him agony.)
Archie was leaning against Horatio's chest, still curled in on himself, but submitting to touch now, shivers were subsiding to shudders, and becoming more sparse.
“I love you, Archie. I am not angry. I am never going to hurt you. Never let anyone hurt you.”
“Made you angry at me.”
“No, no....S'all right Archie. Just fine now. Everything is fine.”
Horatio let his hand rub small circles down Archie's back. He was careful not to reach too low. And now that he he was thinking of it, the scars on Archie's sweet back stood out against Horatio's palm with the force of accusation. Horatio was guilty of the sin of pride. He, Horatio had wanted to make Archie well in body and soul. He wanted Archie to heal quickly and easily. He wanted his love to be sufficient.
He knew that until this week, Archie had tried to keep those scars hidden, from him, from everyone. But they were there. He had felt them under his hands all week. He had tried not to think of them. He had looked but not seen. Not seeing was a sin too. The scars were old, they were white. And it was clear. Somewhere, some time, with that hellish talent for such things, Simpson had gotten time alone. Quite a lot of time. Time alone with Archie and a naval cat.
Archie's head was down. But the shaking had stopped. Horatio let his hand continue with the careful petting.
The pride was Horatio's fault. None of it was Archie's. Stupid to think that the harm to the soul would heal clean. Archie would bear both sets of scars until he his dying day.
He let his mouth drop down to kiss Archie's brow. He could feel the tension leaking away, could feel the real Archie, the beloved Archie coming back. Thank God.
“I love you, my dear, my love, Archie Archie.”
“I know you do. Horatio.” Archie's voice was subdued. “I love you too. And I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me.”
“No. no. Don't worry about it. Lets go outdoors for a while. Lets walk on the land while we have a chance.”
“If we cut through the kitchen, Mary will have something to feed us, I'm sure.” And that, at least, made Archie smile.
“Let's do that.”
“Well, put your trousers. We don't want to scare her.”
Mary was there, in the kitchen. Her face was kind, and each wrinkle on it was home, to Horatio. She produced cold milk and honey cakes. Sitting at the thick oak table, listening to her talk, as she worked, he felt about six.
“You are both dear good boys. I am going to miss you both.” She smiled at Archie specifically. His mouth was full, and he smiled back carefully, hesitant and a little startled. Horatio, for his part, was not surprised. Mary was an observant soul. She believed that applications of hot wash-water and hot food were cure for most ills.
Horatio tucked a few of the honey cakes into his pocket. They went out the kitchen door and onto the back step.
“What shall we do Archie?” Horatio said.. “We could go back to the field, or --”
Archie shook his head. “I'd like to go swimming again.”
The pond was cool and brown in the heat of the day. Horatio dropped his clothes on the dry bank, and slid into the water without a splash. He pushed out strongly from the bank, and rolled over onto his back. It felt so cool and good, sliding down Horatio's chest and sides, and clinging to him in those strange little bubbles.
Horatio could feel the speckled patterns of light and shadow cross his closed eyes, with ribbons of blue and red. They continued over his chest, and all down him in shadows of cool and heat. He could hear the insects singing of summer, and the leaves above him, and the splashy breathy sound of Archie swimming at his side. He rolled over and over in the water, twisting like a porpoise. He put his feet down, into the soft mud, and stood, streaming and clean. He lifted his face, with closed eyes, to the sun, loving the contrast of the heat on his face, and the cold tail of hair that dripped down his back. After 10 heartbeats he heard the sound of Archie splashing to standing up.
He heard a quiet “Horatio.” And Archie's hand was warm on his chest. He covered it with his own.
He was armpit deep in the water. Archie, shorter, had his shoulders covered. They were nearly weightless, sliding together, with the cool brown water caressing between. Archie's mouth was hot inside, and his hands were were strong in Archie's hair. Horatio realized that Archie's feet must be off the ground, because they were wrapped around him tight.
It was building inside Horatio, that pleasure down where his need lay tightly coiled. It was building, with a new and exquisite agony. They were moving against and together, and the cool water seemed to make it all so much slower. Horatio had time to feel it all.
He could feel the bunching and flexing of Archie's back and hips. He could feel the warm sweetness of Archie's honey-tasting mouth. He could feel the cold trailing trickle of Archie's wet hair, on his arms. Horatio had not known it could be slow this way. He could not have guessed how each sensation would inform and increase the whole.
Archie's hands were below the waterline now. They rubbed wickedly over his cold-hardened nipples. Horatio sucked in a shocked breath. Nothing, nobody, had touched him so before. It sent a spike of good, good, straight down between his legs. It seemed so unlikely that a little tan disc – but Archie was watching him closely. “Liked that did you?”
“Oh God, Archie.” And the sliding was delicious, and Archie rose up and forward to devour him with heat. In the strange slowness, Horatio was able to see Archie take the crest of the wave. His face flushed a deep pink, and his perfect teeth were bared as if to bite. The shudder came over Archie, and his mouth loosened. He slumped against Horatio like a tired child. And Horatio could feel the warm spill of Archie's seed, in the cool water between them.
Archie gave a honey scented sigh. And he smiled, as he reached his wicked hand down between them. His grip was hot, and the water was cool. Horatio couldn't wait any more. He buried his face in Archie's wet hair, and he let himself shudder and jerk.
They drifted a moment, entwined, panting together.
“Archie --” Horatio said, “How did you know that the water --”
“I didn't. But oh, it was marvelous.”
“Let's get out onto that rock. I'm cold.”
They clambered out, shivering again, onto the half submerged rock. The sun felt so friendly to Horatio's skin. He drew Archie close, and kissed his chattering lips.
Archie rolled over, belly down in a spot of sun, basking indolent as a lizard.
Tiny beads of water clung to Archie's back, as the beads of air had done underwater. Horatio began gently wiping them off. He could feel the scars, vivid under his hands. They were old and white. Healed, although imperfectly.
Archie stretched, almost purring with pleasure. There would be time for the rest to heal as well, Horatio promised himself. He would see to that.