The shot almost missed them entirely, but just as it sailed through the quarterdeck, it caught the larboard rail, shattering it. William heard it fly past and was already moving when it hit, throwing himself on top of the Captain and covering his body with his own. Horatio huffed as the impact knocked the breath out of him, and for a moment they both lay still, William pinning him down, Horatio staring up at him in wide-eyed surprise. Then the sound of battle returned, and William scrambled to his feet and pulled Horatio up after him.
Later, after their enemy had been evaded, the decks cleared, the repairs in hand, and the reports begun, Horatio asked William into his cabin.
It was an odd truce they kept aboard ship, with Captain Hornblower and First Lieutenant Bush on one hand, and lovers since Kingsport on the other; Horatio always wanting more than he would allow himself, and William always trying to read him so that he could follow his lead without Horatio having to say what he wanted. It worked, mostly.
Only now Horatio was looking at William, and William couldn't for the life of him figure out what that look meant. There was dark-eyed desire in it, certainly, the kind that made William want to take Horatio and kiss the breath out of him, and then slowly fuck him over the great cabin's desk, no matter that they did not do such things at sea. Yet he also saw uncertainty in the softness of his mouth, and, he thought, a trace of fear in the way Horatio kept his hands carefully folded under the table. He was looking at William, all in all, with that pleading expectation that made him want to figure it out first and give Horatio exactly what he wanted, and be rewarded with smiles of surprise and delight.
"Sir?" William said, carefully, though he knew that the marine at the door could not hear them.
Horatio gestured for him to sit, the table a barrier between them. "Thank you, William," he said, and William relaxed, easing back in the chair, following the mode set by Horatio's use of his Christian name.
"What for?" he asked, smiling, feeling the easy gratitude that came with Horatio's company.
"For pushing me down, earlier. You likely saved my life."
That was true. Mathews had pulled a splinter the size of his forearm out of the starboard rail, which could easily have taken both their heads off. The thought made William's stomach churn and he glanced down at the table until he could smile and say, "Of course." He wanted to add, I would do anything in the world for you, even stand in front of that ball myself, but he both hoped Horatio already knew, and knew that hearing it would discomfort him. Yet Horatio still looked uneasy, and William couldn't tell why. "Are you all right?" he eventually asked.
"Perfectly well," was the instant reply, before Horatio looked away to stare at the bulkhead behind William's shoulder. "Only," he hesitated again, but he was started, and William knew to wait him out, "well, it felt pleasant. I liked you holding me down."
William thought back. Somewhere in the scramble to get back up, he'd sat astride Horatio, his hands braced on his shoulders, as though he were pinning him down in a boyish wrestling match. It was not, it occurred to him, that different from how they'd met, all those years ago aboard the Renown. He also didn't quite follow Horatio, but he could feel the edges of it, just out of reach. On instinct, he reached across the table and took Horatio's bony wrist and squeezed lightly. "Is that it?" he asked.
It was. Horatio paled, his breath going shallow, and he had to lick his lips before he could speak. "Harder." William obliged, his grip clamping down as though he were hanging onto to a loose sheet for the Hotspur's life. Now Horatio coloured, the blush creeping up his neck and across his cheekbones, and he looked at William with dark eyes and parted lips. "And on shore," he whispered.
On shore meant what it wasn't safe to do on the ship. By now, William was following well, giving chase, almost. "It'd be a difficult angle," he said, forcing his tone to one of mild interest.
"I'm sure you could come up with something," Horatio replied. His voice was rough, and he his eyes hadn't left William's. They were both imagining the same thing, William thought–Horatio on his back, his long legs wrapped around Williams waist, his heels digging in as William bent over him, thrusting into him while pinning him hard to the bed. Horatio tugged at William's grip until he pulled free, and folded his hands under the table."Or you could tie me down," he added, hesitant again. "And..."
"Go on," William urged. He couldn't look away any more than Horatio could, and it seemed that Horatio's words, this whole line of thought, was pulling him relentlessly on. "Tell me."
"And you could hit me." Saying the words seemed to put him in a lee, and Horatio finally looked away. "I should say, that if you wouldn't like to... I am not dissatisfied with... oh, damn, William. I'm sorry."
"Wait, wait, wait." William's words stumbled over each other, and he held up his hand. He needed time to think. "Horatio, wait." He would not for the world stand for someone to hit Horatio, would run anyone who tried clean through. He was equally a man who did not hesitate to strike a subordinate to maintain discipline, and though the Hotspur was not a flogging ship, he had ordered men flogged, and had made the odd unruly Mid kiss the gunner's daughter besides. It was too easy to picture Horatio bare-arsed, a big sailor holding him down while the bosun applied a dozen strokes with a rattan cane. "I will not punish you!" he snapped, trying to drive the appalling image away. Then pressed his fingers to his temple, immediately sorry for the harshness in his voice.
Horatio sat mute, humiliated, unable to meet William's eyes, and William could not bear it. He stood, pushing his chair back, and planted both both palms on the table so that he could balance as he leaned down to kiss Horatio. He caught the fringe of his hair, first, than awkwardly the side of his nose, until Horatio tipped his head up and their lips met. Horatio's wide mouth was pliant under his. The kiss wasn't punishment either, but William knew he'd be allowed anything right now, if only to make up for the offence Horatio believed he had caused. Horatio wasn't shaking, but only because he forced himself not to, and William could feel the rigid set to his jaw, which didn't go away no matter how gently William kissed him.
And you could hit me, he'd said, and suddenly William wanted to. He wanted to hurt Horatio until he fell to pieces in William's hands, just so that William could be the one to put him back together again. He pulled away and sat down heavily. He had to rest his head in his hands a moment, until his thoughts stopped spinning. When he looked up, Horatio was watching him, his face a careful blank.
The Hotspur creaked under them, pitching a little with the following sea, but a stiff breeze came true on her stern, and William could feel her humming as she took the wind and ran forward– They'd been making ten knots when Mr. Prowse had run the line, just before William came in. It had all the sounds of a happy ship, despite their recent conflict, and William let that bear him forward too.
"What is it you want?" He leaned forward, and pitched his voice low, just above a whisper. In front of him, Horatio seemed to stop breathing. William tried to summon every dirty thing he'd ever heard in his earlier life touring port-city doxies, but it had been long ago now. "Do you want me to take you over my knee, pull down your breaches and spank your arse with my bare hand? Or would you rather I tied your hands above you and caned you shoulder to calf, while you writhed and tried to twist away? I could use a strap or a switch, which would you like?" He made is a real question, but Horatio shook his head, and did not answer, and William continued. "Oh, I could make you talk then, if I wanted. I could make you beg. Do you think it would be to stop or to press on? I believe I know the answer, don't you?" He reached across the table, laid his open hand next to Horatio. He waited for Horatio to take it before he asked, "Can you imagine what it would feel like when I buggered you, after?"
Horatio's pulse raced under his touch, and William felt the power his words had over both of him. He didn't know, yet, what he might do ashore, but he knew what Horatio wanted now, and had some idea how to give it to him. He could feel the rush of anticipation in his own body, and the flush it lent his cheeks. He wanted to stroke himself, but forced his own pleasure aside.
"Will you tell me?" he asked, squeezing Horatio's wrist as he had before. "Or shall I persuade you?"
"William!" Horatio gasped. "William, stop. Not here."
He obeyed, but only after he brought Horatio's hand to his lips and kissed the back, then turned it and kissed the wrist, just under the edge of Horatio's uniform cuff. He knew that if he reached under the table, he'd find Horatio's cock hard and pressing against his breeches, but that was beyond the rules of what they could do onboard. "Of course." he said, and gently let go Horatio go. Then he stood again and saluted with two fingers. "If that will be all, Captain?"
Horatio coughed, then cleared his throat. "Yes, Mr. Bush, that will be all. We will speak more of this ashore."
"Aye, aye, sir," William replied, and his obvious good cheer made Horatio smile too: William's reward at last.