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"Suppression" (Horatio Hornblower Fic)


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My primary method of posting stories is Livejournal, so any new stories I write will be cross-posted here anyway. I thought I'd cross-post my earlier stuff too; mods, if this isn't ok, please tell me. I don't want to seem like I'm spamming, so I'll put one up every few days or so.

Anyway, I'm an enormous fan of the Horatio Hornblower miniseries, Horatio (as played by the amazingly charming and adorable Ioan Gruffudd) in particular. Needless to say, he's the first one I turn to when I start writing sneezefic. This isn't the first fic I posted (I wrote that for a fic meme, and I'd like to ask permission first)--actually, it's my most recent. But always put your best foot forward, right?

I'm normally not given to rambling on about backstory, but this one is my exception. In the C.S. Forester novel Hornblower and the Atropos, Horatio canonically caught a cold, but disappointingly, it all but disappeared after about half-a-page. So I started wondering why, and this story came about.


“Where to, sir?” the boatman said as Hornblower entered the longboat, “Back to shore?”

Hornblower shook his head, wrapping his cloak around him a little tighter. It was still cold, but thankfully it had stopped raining. “I don’t think so. I’ll take advantage of this break in the weather and visit my ship. To the Atropos, if you please.”

The man saluted and lay hands on the oars. “Aye-aye, sir.”

Hornblower smoothed down his cloak and peered forward, waiting for that first glimpse of his ship. Part of him was chiding him for remaining outside in his current state, but the analytical part of him wanted to make sure his ship was in order. He wanted to be able to minimize the preparations when they finally set out for a proper assignment. To him, that seemed more important than hurrying home and getting into bed.

You’re going to regret this, the little voice in his head said, but Hornblower couldn’t see how. The rain had stopped for now, and once he was aboard his ship, he’d have rooms to take shelter in if it started again. Besides, years of listening to his father had assured him that as long as he didn’t get too cold, an extra soaking wouldn’t make his head cold any worse. And as for that little problem, it had been, if not dealt with, at least brought under a manageable rein.

He smiled to himself a little, saying, once again, a quick prayer of thanks for the guard at the palace gates. The man had taken one look at Hornblower’s miserable condition—shivering slightly, pale face, and sniffling most unbecomingly—and told his fellow guard to excuse him for a moment. Then he had all but dragged Hornblower into a small antechamber just inside the main hall and told him to wait. Not five minutes later, he had returned with a cup of some sort of hot liquid and set it down in front of Hornblower. “Here, Captain. Drink this.”

“What is it?” Hornblower had asked, bewildered by all this.

“It’s a bit of a…well, round here we call it a Masking draught. No one serving here who’s going to be in the presence of His Majesty wants to look less than their best. So if any of us are feeling a bit peaky, we have a gulp of this. It’ll keep any mild illness at bay for a good three hours. And if you don’t mind me saying so, Captain Hornblower, you look terrible. I’m sure you have no desire to start sneezing in front of His Majesty.”

Hornblower, who had never even considered that possibility, immediately took up the glass and downed it in one. He had no idea what was in it, but the taste was inoffensive enough. Even better, he began to feel its effects the moment the glass was drained. His head felt less fogged, his body gained a bit more energy, and best of all, that nagging itch in his nose had abated. He looked at the guard with wonder. “I…thank you. How can I…” The man laughed and waved a hand modestly. Hornblower nevertheless slipped him a few coins; ill-advised, perhaps, but the guard had done him a good turn, and such kindness must be rewarded.

He jerked out of his reverie at the sight of a small dot on the horizon. Hornblower smiled and straightened up. They were too far away to be seen by the Atropos, but just a glimpse of her made him want to carry himself with dignity. “When will we arrive, do you think?” he asked the boatman.

“In another twenty minutes, Captain Hornblower.” Satisfied, Hornblower kept his eye on the ship, trying to pick out deficiencies that needed to be addressed. There were no egregious errors, which was reassuring, but he was nevertheless prepared to make a full tour of the ship. He hoped Lieutenant Jones was there, but any of the officers would do.

“Captain coming aboard!” he heard as the boat drew alongside the Atropos, followed by the twittering of the bosun’s pipes. He paid the boatman, then grabbed the ropes and climbed aboard his ship for. “Is Lieutenant Jones here?” he asked the nearest man, once the pipes had stopped.

“Aye, sir,” he responded, “Should be along in a minute now that he knows you’re here.” The man paused, then looked up at Hornblower eagerly. “And your meeting with the King, sir? Did it go well?”

Hornblower smiled. “Quite well. I must commend all of you on a job well done.”

The sailor grinned broadly. “Thank you, sir. We did our utmost.”

Not quite enough to keep the boat from leaking, he thought, but this didn’t seem to be the time or the place to bring it up. So he just nodded his head and looked down the deck for Lieutenant Jones.

Jones arrived a moment later, walking briskly. “Captain Hornblower,” he panted, saluting, “We didn’t expect you here! We all thought that you’d have returned home after your meeting with the king.”

“Since I was out on official business, I thought I should extend my duties and pay a visit to my ship,” Hornblower answered, acknowledging the salute with another nod, “Is she coming together?”

Jones nodded, looking up at the rigging. “Her beams seem to be in good condition, and I’ve been outfitting the sails and rigging. Everything’s been going well.”

“Good,” Hornblower said, looking aloft as well, “I still wish to make an examination of the ship, if you are amenable.”

“Of course, sir,” Jones said, before lowering his voice, “Does this mean that we’ve been given a new set of orders?”

“Unfortunately not,” Hornblower said, rolling his eyes as something occurred to him, “Although we seem to have acquired a new midshipman.”

“Sir?” Jones was understandably puzzled.

Hornblower explained what had happened after his presentation at court. Jones listened, bemused. “Very well,” he said at last, “I’ll make sure there’s space for him.”

“Fine, fine. Now let’s take advantage of the clear weather to make an examination of the deck.”

Unsurprisingly, the deck was in excellent shape. This would have been the area Jones paid the most attention to, after all. Once Hornblower had expressed his satisfaction, they made their way below. Masking draught or not, Hornblower was glad to get below into the relative warmth. “Let’s take a look at the cannons, shall we?”

Here, there was room for improvement. Hornblower pointed out the flaws to Jones, who immediately called for pen and paper and started marking down the issues and their potential improvements. Hornblower wasn’t sure whether to be amused or troubled by his lieutenant’s enthusiasm, but at least he could be assured that all the problems would be attended to, no doubt as soon as he left the ship.

He wasn’t sure how long they spent examining the ship, but by the time they returned to the deck, puddles of water indicated that another rain shower had come and gone. Grateful that he hadn’t been caught in it, Hornblower turned to Jones. “Very good, Mr. Jones. On the whole, the ship is in fine condition.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jones said, his tone modest but his eyes delighted, “Would you like to make an examination of your cabin, sir?”

“No, thank you, I’m sure it’s more than sufficient for my needs. Now then, Jones, I’ll be returning to the ship in another few days. Until then, I have a few suggestions…”

As he stood there, discussing drills for unfurling the rigging and rolling out the cannons, he felt a light prickle in his nose. Used to such things, he absently rubbed his nose and continued speaking. Instead of fading, however, it seemed to grow a little stronger. Hornblower thought it was best to ignore it. A minute later, however, it became very obvious that not only would that be impossible, but the prickle had transformed into a need to sneeze.

This presented a problem. Sneezing before the King would have been the utmost humiliation, of course, but sneezing in front of his men came close behind on the list of embarrassments. Still, everyone sneezed from time to time, and at least he would only be heard by his first officer. Awkward as it was, Hornblower decided to just accept it.

“Pardon me, Mr. Jones,” he said, actually managing a slight smile, “There seems to be a bit of insubordination in the ranks.”

With that, he removed his handkerchief, carefully cupped it over his nose and mouth, and sneezed almost matter-of-factly. “Tchh!

“God bless you, sir.”

“Thank you,” Hornblower said, tucking the handkerchief back into his pocket, “Where was I?”

He resumed his litany, but he couldn’t help but notice that the itch in his nose hadn’t faded. In fact, it was growing stronger still. He straightened up, squaring his shoulders in an attempt to ward it off, and tried to focus on his instructions to Jones.

“And our figurehead could do with a new coat of paint. I’d prefer the hands to be a more human shade of pi…ihh…”

“Sir?” Jones tilted his head.

“Pink,” Hornblower finished, hands curling into fists, “I’d like the ship t…to look in top condition when we f-finally set out.”

He exhaled, which had not been a good idea. The itch flared up, and he was barely able to get his handkerchief to his face. “Ishh!

“God bless you, sir.”

“Thank you,” Hornblower said, feeling himself blush but still trying to remain casual about the whole matter, “I guess I wasn’t quite finished.” He smiled wanly. Jones just nodded and looked expectantly at him for more orders. Grateful for the lack of response, Hornblower sniffed, just once, and attempted to continue.

As he tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket, he noticed that his watch had been extracted in his haste to remove the cloth. He clicked it open, as much to check the time as to determine if it had been damaged. Four already? He thought, startled. Time had been passing quicker than he’d thought, even though most of it had consisted of waiting. He was just putting it back when ice ran through his veins. Oh no…

He’d arrived at the palace at noon. He’d been given the Masking draught about five minutes later. There was no need for calculations; the medicine was wearing off, and his symptoms were returning full force. Hornblower tried his level best to keep his face neutral and his tone pleasant, but a litany of swearwords were running through his head. He needed to finish this conversation and get back on dry land as fast as humanly possible. He quickly ran through his requests, relieved that they were nearly finished.

“Two things more, Mr. Jones. Firstly, make a list of the numbers of men ah-aboard and c-calculate how many provisions we’ll ne…eesssssshhhh!” Once again, he barely got the cloth to his face in time. This time, however, there was no doubt in his mind that there were more sneezes on the way.

“God bless you.” Now Jones’ voice had a note of curiosity in it. Hornblower straightened up once more, clasping his hands deliberately behind his back. The only way he could still salvage this is if he pretended there was nothing amiss. His nose, naturally, was bound and determined to prove otherwise. Five more sentences, he pleaded silently, Just let me get through five more sentences. Then I’ll give in.

“And finally, muster the men and gi-ihh-ve them word that their C-captain is pleased with th-eehhh-eir work. I…I…” Knowing that he was going to lose the battle but still determined to fight to the last syllable, he put his handkerchief at the ready. “I l-look f-forward to working with th…them in a…At-chssssssshhhh!

“God bless you. Are you quite all right, sir?”

Hornblower decided it was best not to answer. Partly because he didn’t want to admit he was ill, and partly because now that the sneezes had started, they seemed loathe to stop. Putting the handkerchief to his nose, he carefully walked past Jones. “I think I will examine my cabin after all,” he said, the words tumbling out in a rush, “If you’ll excuse me, Lieutenant…”

The cabin door was only a few steps away, and he reached it easily. He slipped inside and managed to close it just before the sneezing began in earnest. He pressed the handkerchief over his nose and mouth, trying to stifle the sound entirely. Little “kssts” managed to escape from time to time, and he felt the heat rise to his face with each one. I told you so, the little voice in his head said triumphantly.

Hornblower wasn’t sure if he felt more angry or embarrassed. Why hadn’t he kept a closer eye on the time? He was better than this! Instead, he’d foolishly assumed the effects would last long enough to allow him a tour of the ship. Well, he was paying for it now. God only knew what Jones was thinking.

“Htchh!” He sneezed yet again, and couldn’t stop himself from groaning. This morning, he had merely felt sniffly. Now, he felt positively miserable. Only part of this, he knew, had to do with the cold itself. There was no denying, though, that he felt exhausted and would do well to take himself off to a warm bed. As much as he wanted to remain here in private, he’d need to face Jones eventually.

His nose seemed to be finishing its assault on him, so he concentrated on releasing the last few sneezes. “Heh…Hehishh! Keshh! Ah…ahh…ah-TISH!”

Taking a deep breath, he wiped at his nose until he felt it was reasonably dry, then folded the handkerchief and tucked it away, although he kept it within easy reach. He crossed the room and examined himself in the mirror. His nose was rather pink, his hair had somehow managed to become mussed, and his cheeks were scarlet. He ran his fingers through his hair until he felt it was presentable, but knew there wasn’t much more he could do. With another breath, he stepped out of the cabin again.

Jones was exactly where Hornblower had left him, calling over men and pointing to the list he’d made, obviously asking them to deal with the various issues they’d found. Hornblower approached him, hands awkwardly behind his back. “My apologies, Mr. Jones. I had an urgent matter to attend to.” That, at least, was the truth.

Jones looked him over. Hornblower remained stiff, but inside he was squirming under the scrutiny. At last, Jones said;

“Captain, far be it from me to order you around, but perhaps you should take yourself back to dry land. I believe I can manage everything you’ve asked me to do, and if something else should occur to you, you need only to send me a note.”

Hornblower nodded, clearing his throat. “Yes, that may indeed be the best course of action. Lower a boat, if you please.”

Jones nodded and sent yet another man off to prepare the boat. Then he turned back to Hornblower, looking so earnest that he almost looked in danger of transforming into a puppy on the spot. “What is it, Mr. Jones?” he said, bracing himself.

“If I may, Captain, it’s been raining quite regularly all day, and no matter how well-constructed, a ship of war can be rather drafty. I didn’t want to say anything before, but it’s obvious now that you’ve been positively soaked through.”

Hornblower tried not to blush. So much for an attempt at discretion. Jones’ next words, however, made him look up sharply.

“I wouldn’t want you to come down with a cold on my account.”

“P-pardon, Mr. Jones?”

Jones smiled a little. “Your devotion to your duty is wonderful, Captain, but a man has to think of his own health first. It may not seem like much now, but those sneezes could manifest into a full-blown cold if you’re not careful. Please, Captain, for my sake, as well as that of the crew, go home and get some rest.”

Hornblower nearly went weak in relief. Somehow, the man had managed to see just enough, and yet barely anything. His smile was genuine as he said, “Thank you, Mr. Jones. I believe I will do so. A day of rest in a warm bed and a few cups of coffee should set me right again.”

Jones’ smile widened. “Wonderful, sir. I’ll see you again, hale and hearty, in a few days.”

Hornblower nodded and climbed down to the boat. “I’ll send you word of my arrival.”

Just as he reached the boat, his nose decided to misbehave again. Still relieved and amused, Hornblower didn’t make much of an attempt to muffle it. “Ker-shh!”

“God bless you, Captain!” Jones cheerfully called after him, and Hornblower just as cheerfully called back his thanks. He may still be a fool of the highest order, but at least he had none no irreparable damage to himself. And that, he reflected as he sat down and dabbed at his nose, was half the battle.

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Permission granted ;)

The more Hornblower fics around here, the better!

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Ahhh, poor Hornblower. I just wanted to hug him when he was trying to get those five sentences out (even though he probably wouldn't have given in after five and tried to push for a few more), and he was adorable trying to be casual about it (I love the 'insubordination in the ranks' line).

I haven't read Hornblower and the Atropos, but when I do I'm going to mentally insert this scene into the novel. Thank you for crossposting it here heart.gif

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