"Captain Sawyer? Do you really mean it, Captain Sawyer?" Archie's blue eyes widened wonderfully, and Horatio was highly gratified by his surprised look. "Captain James Sawyer, of the Renown?"
They sat on the window-bench in Horatio's cabin below decks, with a candle on either end of it for the darkening sky. Horatio rested his head back on the windowpanes, surveying Archie with pleasure, and feeling quite self-satisfied by the expressions flitting over Archie's face.
"Yes, yes, Archie; Captain James Sawyer of the Renown."
"Captain Sawyer..." He breathed a sigh of delight.
"I think we've established his name by now," Horatio smiled.
"But this is splendid. We must celebrate, Horatio, for it is splendid. Have we shore leave?"
"Indeed we do, Archie."
"Then what on earth are we waiting for? Drinking Portsmouth dry is the only worthy enough tribute to our good fortune. We must repay Fate somehow. What better way else can you see, Lieutenant Hornblower?"
"Not a one, Lieutenant Kennedy."
Archie looked into his tankard with his special shy grin, swirled the contents, then lifted his gaze to Horatio's face. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Hornblower, on your transfer to the good Captain Sawyer's command," he announced solemnly.
"And congratulations to you too, Lieutenant Kennedy." Horatio laughed softly.
"Cheers." He lifted it rather, and drank deep, only half-hearing Horatio's answer. Captain Sawyer. The honourable, venerable, heroic and brave, clever and courageous and the host of other praises attributed to the man. Of course, the fact that Horatio would transfer to his command didn't surprise Archie in the least. Horatio was always given such honours. Horatio was always sought out in the crowd of quick, bright young men. It was Archie who was left behind, to call out "Well done!" when Horatio came home with new honours. It was Archie who adored and loved and longed to be given an opportunity to prove to Horatio he could do as well. And therefore it was Archie who was astounded to learn that he, too, would go along to the Renown. He would not wait alone on the Indy; he would come along this time.
He looked up again to find Horatio watching him, and propped his elbows on the table, grinning his special grin.
"Yes, Lieutenant Hornblower?"
"I asked if you should care for more of the Celebratory Drink, Lieutenant Kennedy."
"Why, of course, Lieutenant Hornblower. I shall return presently." Archie rose, saluted briefly, and disappeared into the small crowd surrounding the wooden bar.
Horatio watched him, feeling a little odd bit of sad. Archie was always the one who fell ill, who panicked, who was hurt by doubt and hurt by the wrong combination of words, as far as Horatio could see. He was worried, he supposed, for Archie would be the one who failed in some tiny way and then blamed himself for it and spoke terribly of himself, and smiled in that bitter manner and made some biting remark on his own weakness. It wasn't fair that Archie should always be that one, Horatio thought. He could do well enough, and he was a brave man, and a good companion. Horatio was pleased that Archie would come on Renown with him, but deep inside, he was worried. He was worried that something would go wrong, some little thing, and Archie wouldn't forgive himself.
He remembered El Faroll, and the exchange of words, and "You'd do just the same for me were I in your shoes!" "But you're not, and you never will be," and he felt guilty. It was likely true. Archie needed looking after, and that would always hurt him.
Horatio sighed, but managed a smile as Archie returned. The latter gave another salute, which was returned, and fell smoothly back into his chair.
"They brew a fine beer here.."
"Indeed they do, Lieutenant Kennedy."
But it seemed as though Archie weren't interested in playing the game any longer, so Horatio fell to his drinking silently. They both made several journeys to the bar and back without speaking, and then quite suddenly Archie leaned forward earnestly.
"God, Horatio. No one will remember me. I'm barely more than a m'man. I can't ever be worth anything spending my life shooting at frogs."
"Of course you can. Captain Sawyer is only becoming more renowned shooting at frogs." Horatio smiled at his cleverness.
Archie giggled, but shook his head. "It's no good. Horatio, I want to write a play. I want to do something. And wouldn't my hands look better covered with ink instead of rope burns?" He held them out sadly.
Horatio frowned and took them gently. "Your hands are fine the way they are, Archie."
"Oh, no. I want hands like Shakespeare's."
"But you don't know what his were like. He might have had rope burns."
"He did not, Horatio."
"He might have."
"Except that he didn't." Archie pulled Horatio's hands to himself, touching them softly with his fingertips. "He might have had hands like yours. Yours are nice." He kissed them, feeling just light-headed enough to do it.
Horatio pulled them back, dragging a clinging Archie half across the table with them. "They are?"
"Mmhm! Horatio, you shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be on the sea. You should write a book or invent something wonderful, or anything but waste your life like I am."
"You're not wasting your life."
"Of course I am. I'm not doing anything that anyone shall ever be able to look at and think, what a clever man to do something like that. It's why I want to write a play. I think I could write a play. I'd write about the sea."
"What about the sea?"
"The sea sings, did you know that? If you're quiet, you can hear it singing."
"Archie, I think you're drunk."
Archie blinked his wide blue eyes are Horatio, still half-across the table. "Really."
"Of all the things." Archie lifted his hand, and brushed along Horatio's cheek, tangling his fingers in Horatio's hair and kissing him, braced on the table.
He found he couldn't stop kissing Horatio after that, giggling a little and gasping heartbrokenly, as though he'd lost something immensely precious. He thanked God several times in his head, with the thanks tripping over themselves, that Horatio didn't seem to mind. The difficulty was that Horatio seemed rather to be too surprised to react other than laying his hand on Archie's back.
A few moments later, he finally did react, by whispering: "No. Not here."
"I said 'not here', not 'stop'. It's all right." Horatio touched Archie's hair wonderingly. "We must rent a room in town for the night, something like that."
"Of course. We have shore leave." Horatio stumbled to his feet, and Archie managed to wriggle off the table and stand beside him. He clung to Horatio's arm then, though, having never wanted to stop his kisses and afraid to ever begin them again.
Once in a room -- in the very same tavern they had drunk in -- Horatio paused, seeming unsure of what to do now. Archie swallowed, and kissed his cheek, and suddenly it was as easy as before, because now Horatio was returning the kisses, slipping his arm about Archie.
He went back to thinking his confused, quick 'thank Gods', and meant them with all his heart.
In the morning, Archie woke early, head aching, unable to sleep in a bed that wasn't rocked by his singing sea. "Didn't do a very good job of drinking Portsmouth dry, did we?" he murmured.
"We did well enough," Horatio told him, and kissed his forehead shortly. "Well enough, Lieutenant Kennedy."
"Thank God, Lieutenant Hornblower."
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