Title: Cups of Kindness
Word count 1000
Cups of Kindness
“But why?” Cleveland said. He frowned into his coffee. “I can see trading to get out of it, but trading to take my watch?”
“It is just--” And Horatio could not properly explain.
“Never mind. Maybe I don't want to know.” Cleveland waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Have my watch in the dark and cold, if you want it so badly. I'll take yours in the morning, with my coffee.”
At slightly before eight bells Horatio was ready. He was muffled form head to foot. He was mittened, booted. It was not that the air was so cold, it was the standing still that did it.
The Indy was gliding North on a sea of glass. She was parting the water like a comb through a woman's dark hair. The sea streamed along her smooth sides to a perfect wake, and subsided to smooth again at the limit of his vision. The wind was steady and light, had been all day.
There had been a bread-crust moon, tonight, the round of it eaten away. It had set hours ago. Now the sky was only stars-- like salt spilled on black velvet.
It was not the same, nowhere near the same. For one thing, he would know when Midnight came. It would be the end of watch. He would be relieved, by Archie. And he would go to his hammock to sleep, as the New Year took it's first breaths.
No it was not the same. But he tucked himself in shadow, and watched, over the featureless soundless water for the new year to come.
He was deep in the past when Archie's hand touched his shoulder.
“You are early for the watch, Mr Kennedy.”
“That is not why I'm here.” Archie's voice was soft. And Archie's strong hands turned him, Archie's eyes looked, and saw him clear.
“You are sad, Honeybee. What is troubling you?”
“I-- nothing much really. I miss my father.” Horatio was hesitant. Sometimes Archie did not want to hear about fathers.
“Hmm.” There was nobody to see them. Archie sat back on a coil of rope, he drew Horatio deeper into the shadows, and into the curve of his arm.
“I think the turning of the year makes people a little sad.” Archie said. “Older people especially. My father said something like that once.”
“Your father said the New Year made him sad?” Horatio repeated it neutrally, to encourage Archie on. He felt his heart pounding, Archie almost never spoke of his father.
“Oh yes--” Archie said. “We had a ball, every year. A huge one, and the planning made mother fair distracted, and the expense drove father mad. He did not really like the London house, I think. He did not like to have to dress, and pay calls, and attend balls, and dance. And he certainly did not like to waste his money. But mother liked it, and we had to present my sisters. It would have been very wrong not to give them the right opportunities to meet people. But, I always thought father was more happy when we were in Scotland.”
Archie gave a fleeting smile. “Mostly I was packed off to bed long before anything exciting started happening. But one year mother came and kiss me goodnight, and she had feathers in her hair, and diamonds. Her hair is dark, like yours Horatio. I have imagined Titania that way, ever since.”
Archie did not look sad himself, exactly, just a little distant.
“I used to try stay up to hear the music,” he said.
“And did you-- hear the music?” Horatio said.
“Well, I thought I did, at the time. Some years I guess I might have. I think now that I may have mostly dreamed it. Mys sisters always saved me a piece of cake though. I liked that.”
He drew a hand down Horatio's back, the caress more intention than fact, through the muffling layers of wool.
“Did you and your father celebrate the New Year?” Archie asked.
“Oh yes.” Horatio could talk about it now. The lonesome lump in his throat has eased.
“Every year, after we ate, Father and I would go and sit on the thinking rock, and watch the stars, and the moon if there was one. And we would try to feel the new year start. Just the two of us, and it was always so quiet. I used to imagine Amanda the snake, asleep under there. We never saw her in winter, you know.”
“So that is what we did. I wonder if he is sitting there alone this year.”
“Every year the same?”
“Yes-- well. Every year but one. The year that I was 10 he had an emergency. I got to go with him and reduce a dislocated elbow.”
“That sounds-- festive.”
“Well, it was. The elbow was on a little boy. They said he fell, but father said later that someone bigger probably pulled him by the arm. The people there were drinking hot buttered rum. Father had them give the child quite a lot. He got very drunk, he was only four. Father had me hold him, and he put the arm right again. I think it stopped hurting after that. The boy stopped screaming anyway. And then they gave me and father drinks too. Father had to carry me home.”
Archie chuckled, imagining it. Horatio gave a short laugh too, but his face did not keep the smile.
“I miss him so.”
“I know you do, Honeybee. Why don't you write him tomorrow? You can tell him you watched the year in, and that you thought of him?”
“I will,” said Horatio. “Oh, there is the bell.”
They walked together to the quarterdeck, to turn over the watch.