If Horatio was honest with himself, it had started after he got out of the pit. Being exposed to the heat had been bad enough, but it was the infrequent but violent rainstorms that had really done it. When he’d finally been released, he’d been dehydrated, faint, and chilled. The physician sent round to examine him had said it was a product of the heat, and that rest and water would take care of it. And he’d been right, for the most part. Three days in bed and numerous glasses of water had been enough to get Horatio back on his feet. Yet a faint chill lingered, causing him to shiver slightly whenever he felt a hint of a breeze. But he spent his time in the sunlight and made sure to keep the blankets firmly tucked around him at night, and mostly the chill was all but forgotten.
Then it made its presence known again, quite clearly, on a windy day that threatened rain. Despite the occasional faint shiver, Horatio was bound and determined to take his walk along the shore, enjoying the privacy and the chance to try to think over an escape plan. Perhaps, if he had acted on his initial instinct that morning to remain in the prison, reading in his bunk, things would have turned out somewhat differently. Instead, he was out in the open, looking out to sea, when Don Massaredo approached him and pointed out a sea battle not too far from the beach.
Everything that happened next blurred together in Horatio’s mind. A sinking ship. A desire to help. Desperate promises. Pouring rain, driving winds, high waves. Hoarse shouting. The loss of a crewman and fellow prisoner. A particularly unexpected reunion. The one constant was the cold, which simultaneously kept him alert and numbed him to almost everything. Even when things had settled down somewhat and all he could really do was keep himself (and Miss Cobham, who was huddled against him) awake and alert, it was the harsh shiver that ran down his spine every two minutes that were enough to keep him focused. It still took him a few minutes, however, before it really registered that the boat had been rescued by his own ship, the Indefatigable.
“Move lively, men!” Pellew roared at the nearest crewmen, “Have Cornell ready to receive patients! Get tea, coffee, and brandy ready! And for God’s sake, get them some blankets! The last thing we need is for them to be rescued from the sea only to die of pneumonia!” The men he shouted at quickly sprang into action, leaving the rescued men stranded on deck, unsure what to do or what to say. Pellew, understanding this, directed them to get out of the rain and sit down.
Whether it was coincidence or a tacit acknowledgement on Pellew’s part, Horatio found himself back in his old quarters to wait until he was called before the doctor. He sat on the hammock, drawing the blankets a little closer to himself. While having them wrapped around him had taken the edge off of the bone-chilling cold, he was still shivering, and no amount of rubbing seemed to help. Part of him just wanted to crawl into the hammock and fall asleep, but he wanted to make sure the others were all right. Besides, it wouldn’t do to be caught sleeping when Doctor Cornell finally sent for him.
It was a good half-hour before Cornell finally had a chance to look Horatio over. After quickly checking Horatio’s hands and face, he nodded his satisfaction. “No trace of hypothermia. You should be all right. Although I’d get out of those wet clothes and dry off before you catch cold.” Horatio, certainly not about to argue with that, returned to his quarters, found a nightshirt in his seachest, tried to remove every trace of dampness on his body with a towel (but only ended up soaking the towel), and fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. He dimly felt guilty for not reporting to Captain Pellew, but he suspected that if he was needed, he would have been sent for long before going to see Cornell.
The next morning, he woke up with the chill noticeably present, and a faint headache besides. But he shook his head, dressed, and went up on deck to check on the other survivors before meeting with the captain. The rain had stopped, thankfully, so some sunshine would hopefully fix the worst of the chill.
The next few hours passed in a flurry of discussions, embarrassed confessions, and the regretful decision to return to El Ferrol. The more Horatio moved and talked, the sorer and colder he felt, and the softer his voice became as his throat protested the endless talking. But he gave no outward sign of it, assuming all he needed was a longer stint in bed. And since they were heading back to El Ferrol, he was guaranteed to get that chance.
Thus it was that he and Archie Kennedy found themselves looking into their old cell. “Almost feels like home, doesn’t it?” Archie said, glancing at Horatio with a grin.
Horatio grinned back. “Almost. It just needs a…a…”
The itch had sprung into his nose without warning, and he barely had enough time to dig out his handkerchief (still wrinkled from the seawater) and press it to his face. “Ah-ishh!” The sneeze was followed by three sharp coughs, and Horatio winced as his chest tightened in protest.
A hand rested on his back, while another was pressed against his forehead. “Horatio…” Archie said, half-concerned, half-scolding, “How long have you had this fever?”
“I don’t know,” Horatio answered honestly, “But it wasn’t causing me any trouble until just now. I’ll be all right if I get a little rest.”
“I’m sure you will,” Archie said, taking Horatio’s shoulders and pushing him towards the beds, “Because I’m going to make absolutely sure you get that rest. You won’t be leaving the prison, the cell, or even the bed unless I say so.”
“None of that,” Archie said, “The last time someone in this room claimed to be doing all right, they fell unconscious and would have died if it wasn’t for quick thinking. I’m not going to let that happen again.”
The tone was light, but Archie’s voice quavered faintly as he spoke, and Horatio felt a stab of guilt. “I’m…sorry.”
Archie’s hand returned to Horatio’s back, rubbing softly, reassuringly. “I’d say it’s not your fault, except, well…you bring this on yourself, you know.”
“Oh, do I, now?” Horatio said, climbing into the top bunk and pulling the blankets around him. It didn’t do much to diminish the shivering, but some warmth was better than none.
“You do,” Archie said, sitting across from him on the opposite bunk, “The rainstorm you dragged yourself out in to save my sorry arse, your time in the pit, this whole business going out to rescue survivors…I’m honestly surprised you weren’t sneezing long before this. Or perhaps you were and you’ve just been hiding it. You’re rather good at that.”
Horatio felt himself flush. Archie smiled up at him, shaking his head. “Never mind. I’m one to talk. Try to get some rest.”
Curling in on himself, Horatio closed his eyes. He’d be better in the morning. With such a long sleep, how could he not be?
“Ha-ESSHHH!!” Horatio sneezed into his handkerchief, wincing as the cloth, still bearing traces of salt, rubbed against his nose, which had already gone red and raw. Less than twenty-four hours after his first sneeze, and now his nose didn’t seem to want to stop. He could only imagine how he sounded to the men in the adjoining cells. Hell, he could only imagine how Archie felt having to listen to it hour after hour. No wonder he’d all but fled out of the room when the others were let out for afternoon exercise, stopping only long enough to tell Horatio to remain in bed. Sniffing wetly, Horatio prepared himself for another sneeze. “Heh…heh-KSHHH!!!”
The key scraped in the lock, and Horatio turned his head blearily towards the door. He didn’t have a watch handy to keep track of the time, but he was sure the exercise period hadn’t ended yet. What on earth was Archie doing back so soon?
He got his answer as Archie gingerly made his way into the room, his vision blocked by a large tray of items. “What on earth…” Horatio rasped, before he started coughing.
Archie set the tray down on the bench by the window and started pointing at the various items on it. “A pitcher of water, several cloths for soaking, some oil the doctor says will soothe aches, and three clean handkerchiefs. I’d have brought you some soup and tea, but I wasn’t sure if you were hungry.”
Horatio’s eyes widened. “Archie, where did you get all this?”
“Don Massaredo was surprised and pleased that you honored your parole. When I told him you were feeling a bit run-down from your exertions, he was more than happy to lend me some supplies to make sure you made a full recovery.”
“Is that…is that what you’ve been doing all this time?”
“What else would I be doing? There’s no one out there to plan an escape with or teach Spanish to. I suppose I could play chess with some of the men, but they’re all too busy discussing the bits of news they gathered from their time on the Indy.”
Horatio coughed again, turning away from Archie. It all felt like too much, somehow. For Archie to go out of his way to do this for Horatio’s sake felt unnecessary. He’d been through worse than this; all he really needed was some time in bed. He didn’t want Archie to inconvenience himself for the sake of a mere cold.
His nose prickled again. “CHSHH!!”
As he lifted his handkerchief to his nose, it was tugged out of his hand and replaced with a softer one. “Use this. We don’t need your nose to start bleeding on top of everything else.” Archie said, a smile lurking in his voice.
Horatio pressed the cloth to his face, almost groaning in relief at how soft and cool it felt against his chapped nose. Archie’s hand patted his wrist. “How’s your fever? Are you cold? Hot?”
“A little over-warm,” Horatio answered, “But I’ll probably be shivering again in a few minutes.”
“We’ll save the damp cloths for later, then,” Archie said, sitting on his bunk and pulling out a book, “Let me know if you need anything, all right?” Horatio hesitated, then nodded his agreement. Archie smiled and opened the book, leaving Horatio dabbing at his nose and trying to get a little rest.
Fifteen minutes later, he awoke with a harsh shiver, which quickly led to a series of short coughs and a wet sneeze. “K-SHHH!”
Archie’s hand was on his forehead at the same moment that the handkerchief touched his nose. “Lie on your back, Horatio. I’ll get a compress ready.”
“You d-don’t have to do this…” Horatio said faintly, before another cough shook his body.
“Yes, I do. An eye for an eye, a nursing for a nursing. I think that’s how that phrase goes.”
“You have more important things to worry about than me.” Horatio protested, even as a cold cloth was placed over his eyes and he lay back in bed.
“Maybe. But you’re my friend, and I want to make sure you’re all right. Despite what you think, you’re rather important too.”
Even though he was shivering, Horatio could feel the heat rising to his face. He hadn’t had much in the way of friends before joining the Navy, so hearing that someone considered him a friend was a strange, yet comforting sensation. There are people outside your family who worry about your well-being, the rational part of his mind murmured to him, The least you could do is accept their help with good grace.
So he gently pressed the cloth to his temples and managed a smile. “If you say so, Archie.”
“I do. And if any of your division was in here with you, they’d probably be saying it too.”
Horatio sniffed and changed the subject. “What was that I saw you reading earlier?”
“Some short stories written in Spanish. Don Massaredo recommended them.”
“Are they any good?”
“They aren’t bad. Do you want to hear one?”
“I don’t know. My Spanish isn’t…”
“Think of it as a Spanish lesson. Stop me if you hear a word you don’t understand.”
Horatio nodded; the idea made sense, and was a productive way to pass the time while confined to bed. Archie paused to turn the cloth over, then opened the book and started to read. Horatio listened, picking up one out of every three words but generally able to follow the gist. When he sneezed midway through, Archie said “Salud.” without even breaking his stride in the narrative. Horatio chuckled and murmured “Gracias.” in return. He lay back and listened, rubbing his nose occasionally to keep from interrupting Archie any more than he had to.
They were midway through the story when Horatio felt himself drifting off from the combination of Archie’s voice and the warm blankets. Archie must have noticed, because just before Horatio fell asleep, he was vaguely aware of the cloth being removed from his forehead, and Archie murmuring (in English this time), “I hope you feel a little better when you wake up.” And somehow, Horatio had the feeling that he would.