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Building Trust (Horatio Hornblower, M)


groundcontrol

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Ahh, it's only a matter of time before I come around with another Hornblower fic, isn't it? Try as I might, I can't keep away for long. 

Note: If the story seems disjointed, that's because it is. I wrote most of it over sixth months ago, and then found it a few days ago. I had a spare moment today, so I cranked out a little ending. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy. 

Archie Kennedy heard the footsteps approach, each one slower than the last. He knew the sound; they were footsteps of reluctance, defeat. And he knew whose they were as well. He kept his gaze fixed on his book, seeing the first line over and over but never piecing the letters together into words. He watched the door to the midshipman's berth in his periphery until the footsteps stopped and Horatio Hornblower stood there, windswept and dripping water like a tap.


From the farthest hammock down the line, Simpson sniggered. “How was the rigging tonight, snotty?”


Horatio wrung the water from a handkerchief, keeping his eyes trained decidedly at his hands, which shook visibly. “It was fine, Simpson,” he said softly. “Thank you for asking.”


“Fine?” Simpson called, already rising up in his hammock. “Then that’s not much of a punishment, is it? Shall we continue it down here, eh?”


Horatio gave no response, merely pressing the sodden handkerchief to his lips and coughing lightly. Archie caught himself staring and quickly looked back down at his book, his heart twinging in some painful mix of pity and sympathy. Horatio didn’t look as if he could put up much of a fight that night.


“Jack, please,” Clayton said tiredly from his hammock. 


With a huff, Simpson settled into his hammock once more. “Sweet dreams then, snotty.”


Horatio exhaled audibly, which lead to another round of airy coughing. He nodded his thanks to Clayton, who nodded back and turned on his side to sleep. Archie watched the whole display out of the corner of his eye, fidgeting imperceptibly as nothing seemed comfortable about his hammock any more. Clayton and Horatio were bold, bolder than he ever was. They’d had their moments of standing up to Simpson. Archie had just rolled over and accepted the abuse since the day it had begun.


But that wasn't to say the two midshipmen hadn’t paid the price for their boldness. Clayton had the welts on his arms still and Horatio… In the three days since his beating the bruises were well on their way to fading, but now it was evident he had other consequences to deal with. As punishment for “fighting” and lying to a superior officer, he’d been given three spells of two hours each in the rigging. Each evening of the punishment had ended the same way, with Horatio sulking back to the midshipman’s berth soaking wet from the rain. It seemed Simpson had even gotten the weather to take his side.


Giving up on the pretense of reading, Archie watched as Horatio peeled off his wet uniform. Every muscle in Horatio’s body, every movement he made seemed to surrender to the world, to say “I’ll accept whatever it is you throw at me so long as it ends things quickly.” The sight made Archie ache. He didn’t know quite why he had felt such a strong connection to Horatio when he’d come aboard, but it sickened Archie to see Horatio wear the same lifeless expression he had. If he were bolder, he’d find some way to put a stop to all of this, for the good of both of them.


But as always, Archie found himself mute, grasping for something else to say, anything but what he was thinking. “Looks like you’ve gone for a swim,” he whispered as Horatio climbed into next hammock over, shivering.


He laughed without humor. “If only that were so.” His voice, Archie thought, was lower in pitch, but time would tell whether that held any significance. 


“Get some sleep. With a fresh head it'll all seem better in the morning.” Both knew better than to believe what Archie had said.

Horatio turned on his side, away from Archie and the rest of the midshipmen, and if Archie strained carefully he could hear the faint sounds of crying.
************
Archie awoke in the middle of the night, not startled in the same way he would have been if he’d had a fit, but alert nonetheless. He looked over to Horatio’s hammock, and found at once what must have awoken him. Horatio was paused, eyes shut but sitting up. He pitched forward, pinching his nose it what must have been a sneeze but was mostly a sharp breath and a shake of the hammock. He repeated the procedure twice more. Gingerly, he tried for a breath in, but stopped upon finding his nose utterly blocked. He coughed, clenching his jaw tightly to trap the sound.


“Horatio,” Archie whispered, voice scarcely more than a breath.


Even in the half light Horatio’s cheeks went scarlet. “I’m sorry,” he whispered back. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”


“It’s all right. You sound like--”


Simpson grunted loudly in his sleep, and Horatio looked at Archie, frantic.


“Please, go back to sleep Archie. Before we wake him.”


“But--”


“Archie, please!”


So Archie nestled down in his blankets once more, hovering his eyes close to shut. Through slits, he watched Horatio for a while, sneezing and coughing and swinging the hammock as quietly as he could. On the other end of the row of hammocks, Simpson was snoring lightly, dreaming of whatever it is that black souls do.


*****
In the morning, Archie awoke to find Horatio’s hammock empty, the latter having gone for his watch already. With a sinking feeling, his memories from the night before seeped back into him, cold as seawater. Horatio, damp and sullen, shivering and sneezing. He was clearly coming down ill and yet he was still up and on deck bright and early. For a second Archie had a thought that Horatio was seeing the doctor, but he quickly dismissed the thought. That wasn’t a Horatio course of action, that much Archie could gather so far.


Archie found Horatio on deck, supervising his men as they cleaned the cannons. His back was to Archie, but as he approached he could see faint tremors shake Horatio’s body. 


“Morning, Mister Hornblower,” Archie said, sweeping his leg out in a grandiose bow as though he were before a lord of the court. On a good day this would coax a laugh out of Horatio, but today the man just gave a tight-lipped smile.


“Morning, Mister Kennedy.” Horatio cleared his throat, disguising the wince that followed by looking out to sea, but Archie caught it nonetheless. Horatio sounded awful, completely bunged up and hoarse all at once. 


Inexplicably, pity welled up in Archie’s chest. It wasn’t at all uncommon for new men to the ship to fall ill; hell, it was even expected. Archie himself had had his fair share of runny noses and sore throats, but he couldn’t bear to see Horatio battered and bruised on top of his illness. He wanted to care for Horatio in the way he wished someone had cared for him, in those dark early days haunted by Simpson’s spectre. Perhaps this would take his mind off the memories.


Archie was just thinking of a way to voice this desire when Horatio handed him the perfect opportunity. 


Heh’NGSHH!” 

Archie patted him on the shoulder and drew slightly closer, offering Horatio his own handkerchief. “Can’t have you rubbing your nose on your uniform sleeve, can we?”
Horatio sniffed and looked away, cheeks reddening. “I couldn’t,” he said, and good God, Archie could scarcely understand the poor man. 


Archie waved it again in front of him, like a tiny flag in the sea breeze. “I insist,” he said, then added in a clever tone, “unless you’ve remembered yours.”


Horatio patted the pockets on his coat, shook his head, and then snatched the handkerchief just in time to snap forward with another sneeze. “Heh’ISSH!”

“I thought so,” Archie said fondly, and couldn’t help but to give Horatio’s shoulder a few pats.


Horatio coughed a little, and then sniffed again. “I shall wash it and return it to you as soon as I’m off watch and can get my own.”


“Don’t worry, Hornblower. It’s what friends do for each other.”


Archie tensed as soon as the words had left his mouth, waiting for Horatio to correct him, to protest that they had scarcely met, that they were shipmates and bunkmates and naught more. But Horatio merely smiled. A real smile, the first genuine one Archie had seen him give.


“Thank you, Mister Kennedy.”


“Call me Archie, if you’d like.”


“Only if you call me, Horatio.”


“A deal I cannot refuse,” Archie said, and it made his chest light when Horatio smiled again, even if it was followed by a sore-sounding coughing fit. 


“Feel better, Horatio,” Archie said over his shoulder as he went to his station for the watch. 


“I think I will, thanks to you, Archie,” Horatio said, so softly Archie wasn’t sure he didn’t imagine it, but why would he be imagining such things?

 

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40 minutes ago, AngelEyes said:

Awww.

I can’t say it any better than this! :)

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22 hours ago, groundcontrol said:

Try as I might, I can't keep away for long. 

And I'm grateful for that, if it means getting more Hornblower fic from you every so often. I really need to get around to writing more for this fandom myself...

You've picked an excellent time and reason for Horatio to fall ill; it's one of those canon moments that's begging for sneezefic (some other examples being after the pit incident in The Duchess and the Devil and the shower scene in Mutiny). And while it's a bit angsty, that's a very appropriate mood given the time when the story is set and Simpson looming over everything. Plus, there's warmth and hope in the fact that Horatio and Archie are starting to become friends, so it's not a depressing read, which I always appreciate. I love me some broody men, but I prefer my angst in small doses.

22 hours ago, groundcontrol said:

 

Horatio turned on his side, away from Archie and the rest of the midshipmen, and if Archie strained carefully he could hear the faint sounds of crying.

That being said, this is heartbreakingly adorable and I really just want to cuddle Horatio and tell him it'll be all right. Not that I think he'd let anyone do that at the  best of times...

22 hours ago, groundcontrol said:


“Morning, Mister Hornblower,” Archie said, sweeping his leg out in a grandiose bow as though he were before a lord of the court. On a good day this would coax a laugh out of Horatio, but today the man just gave a tight-lipped smile.

Is that a nod to book canon I see? If so, that's the icing on the cake to a short but sweet story.

Thanks so much for sharing!

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Aww thank you all!! Glad you liked it. 

And @Wig_Powder yes that was a nod to the book! I was hoping someone would pick up on that. Of course, I shouldn't be surprised that it was you :) I always thought the little boy-ness of that scene was cute in the book. 

Im glad the story wasn't too angsty, because when I'm not writing fanfic, my writing tends on the quite dark, and I didn't want this to head that way. And of course I look forward to whatever in this fandom you get around to writing, Wig!

(Side note: I take it as a personal offense that no one got sick after the pit affair. I mean, come on...)

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1 hour ago, groundcontrol said:

 

(Side note: I take it as a personal offense that no one got sick after the pit affair. I mean, come on...)

Welcome to how I feel about almost every Ioan project ever. Getting frozen in Fantastic Four, constantly getting soaked in both Hornblower and Forever, being out in the rain when his colitis first struck in Amazing Grace...the list goes on. Forever was particularly awful about teasing me, to the point where an acquaintance who knows about my kink went from ribbing me about it to saying "ok, yeah, they're just taunting you at this point". If he ever does sneeze in something, I'm either going to be massively let down or spontaneously combust.

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