Title, On Going Home, Chapter 19
Word Count 728
Disclaimer – Well, John Hornblower is mine. The boys at the chess-board are not.
On Going Home, Chapter 19
His stockings were smoking slightly. Too much pine in the fire. Horatio always made the fire too hot.
The doctor pulled his feet down. He knew he could put them right into the flames, and his toes would still hurt. Arthritis there. No hope for it.
All those years, when it had been the two of them. Horatio would make up the fire for his father. It would be ready, for the doctor, every night. And every night, too hot. John had worried that Horatio would crack the chimney. Night after night rebuked him for it.
Every night his little boy had looked up at him with those dark eyes, so earnest and sincere. Horatio was not like other mens sons. He had never been naughty on purpose, he had never been disrespectful. He had been quiet, studious, grateful.
Teaching him anything had been a joy. When he was small and restless, still in a smock, John had been able to hold out new learning as a reward. “Be good Horatio, for another hour,” he had said, “And I'll teach you something you don't know.” What kind of little boy was that?
Now, Horatio was sprawled on the hearthrug. His curls caught the firelight, as they had for all the years. As always, he was as close as he could get to the spitting heat. His long legs sprawled across the room, now. But now not alone. His head was bent over the old chess-board, instead of the books he had held year after year. He was playing chess with Archibald Kennedy.
And he was frowning. And he was –at the moment-- loosing.
Kennedy was interesting. He was intelligent, and well bred. The son of an earl – where did you find him Horatio? His manners were delightful. He was graceful, poised, and impeccably correct. That face and that body had to be more burden than blessing to him. The depredations of age would come as a kindness, John Hornblower thought. Still there was not the arrogance one might expect, with such station and such looks. There was only the brittle carefulness of one who was far from home and excruciatingly young.
John Hornblower wished he could do what Mary did, and sweep the young man up for food and doting attention. He looked as if he had suffered long lack of it. Of course a man could not act in that way. Especially not in the face of such fragile dignity. He could feel a deep injury in the boy. Somewhere where probes and physics could not reach. Maybe he would heal with time, maybe Horatio would heal him.
Horatio would want to, that was certain. He had the instincts of a doctor. And he was in love. The boys did not know of course, that they had been seen kissing on the step. John Hornblower could not say anything directly. He had not meant to see them. But he was grateful now that he had. His poor Horatio had been lonely forever. John Hornblower had worried over that for years. Now he had new and vivid worries to replace his old.
He could not tell them to be good to each other, to be patient, loyal, and kind. He could not tell them to revel in love while they were young. He could not even tell them to be careful not to get caught and hanged.
He had said what he could. He had said, “look out for each other.” The startled flare in Kennedy's eyes showed that he, at least, may have understood.
The clock chimed. The fire was still too hot. Kennedy had Horatio in check. And it was late enough that the doctor could leave without seeming odd. He gave a stretch and yawn that was only partly artifice.
“I'm off to bed, boys. I'll see you both in the morning. Horatio will you stay here a little while? At least until the fire is a little less-- aggressive?”
Horatio looked up at him with the same eyes he'd had at six, at ten. His boy, his Horatio.
“Yes, father. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight Sir.” That was Kennedy, a beat later, faultlessly correct.
“Goodnight boys. I'll see you both at breakfast.”
And that was that.