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Childhood Comfort

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“Horatio?” Archie said quietly, poking his head into their shared berth, “Are you awake?”

The answer was a hacking cough from Horatio’s hammock, followed by a wet sneeze. “Heh…tishh!

“Bless you.” Archie said, closing the door quickly. He knew Horatio hated anyone seeing him like this. Having to be dragged to the doctor two days ago had been bad enough, and the fact that he’d been confined to bed with his condition to be regularly relayed to the captain had been even worse. Really, it was astonishing that he tolerated Archie’s presence at all, though perhaps he was just feeling too miserable to put up much of a fight.

And based off what Archie could see, Horatio had every right to be miserable. Whatever this illness was, it had completely sapped Horatio of energy. Mostly he just lay there in the hammock, shaking faintly whenever his fever spiked. He didn’t even try to turn over, though he had, just before collapsing, positioned himself so that he wasn’t breathing directly in Archie’s direction, and perpetually had a handkerchief in his hand to weakly cover his nose and mouth. While he did force himself out of bed whenever nature called, he mostly stayed in bed, though whether or not he got any sleep was unclear. His appetite appeared to have deserted him, though he did manage a few mouthfuls of broth or sips of water whenever Archie insisted he get something in his stomach. Even his coughs and sneezes were oddly quiet and tired, as though they didn’t want to expend any energy either. His entire posture basically begged for the world to leave him alone, and Archie mostly obliged.

The hammock swayed slightly as Horatio sneezed again. “Kishh!

“Bless you.” Archie said, sitting on his hammock. Horatio acknowledged the blessing with a soft groan, and Archie felt a guilty pang. Horatio was his friend and his bunkmate; the least he could do was look after him. But he was at a loss to figure out what could help in this situation.

Wanting to do something, at least, he asked, “Can I get you anything? Water? Another blanket?”

“Nnn…” Horatio mumbled, which Archie had learned meant “No”. Normally, Archie would have accepted that and left him be. Today, however, Archie decided to push a little.

“Well, is there anything I can do for you? Even if you just want me to leave, I’ll leave. I’d just…I’d like to feel like I’m helping you recover in some way.”

Horatio was silent for a minute, and Archie thought it was a sign that he did, indeed, want Archie to leave. But just as he got to his feet, Horatio spoke, his first actual words in two days, and he realized that Horatio had just been trying to gather the strength to talk.

“There is…one thing…maybe…”

“Yes?” Archie said, hoping he didn’t sound too excited.

There was another pause, but this time, Archie was patient. Finally, Horatio said softly,

“S-sing.”

“What?” Archie wasn’t sure he’d heard right. “Did you say sing?”

“Never mind,” Horatio said, just before coughing again, “Stupid of me…”

“No, Horatio, no,” Archie protested, “I was just surprised, that’s all. Ever since you told me you had no ear for music, I just assumed…”

“There are…exceptions.” Horatio murmured, and even though his back was to Archie, Archie was convinced that Horatio was blushing. Horatio sniffed thickly and continued “When I’m ill…music sounds…nice. I imagine…that’s what it sounds like…to most people.”

Archie wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He settled for making an encouraging noise. Horatio took a shaky breath, and the hammock shuddered as he sneezed again. “Pitchh!

“Bless you,” Archie said, “If that’s what you want, I’ll do it. I’m just baffled as to how you figured this out.”

Horatio took a shaky breath again, but instead of sneezing, he breathed out one word; “Mother.”

Archie felt chagrined at once. Reaching out, he rested a hand on Horatio’s back. A shiver ran up Horatio’s back at the touch, despite the heat Archie could feel radiating off Horatio’s skin. Still, he kept it in place, carefully running one finger back and forth, the closest approximation he could get to of rubbing his friend’s back. He thought for a few minutes, trying to think of something he could sing. The usual sea shanties were too bawdy and energetic for Horatio’s current state, and Archie’s family hadn’t been particularly musical. This required something a little gentler, but he wasn’t sure what that could be.

Finally, he settled on a song he and his friends had picked up back in his Drury Lane days. After a performance, they would retire to the nearest tavern, get pleasantly drunk, then make their ways home, singing a traditional parting song. At the time, they’d thought it was appropriate given their drinking. Now, it would work better with its intended meaning.

Archie took a deep breath, clearing his throat slightly. Then, with a gentle press against Horatio’s back, he began.

Of all the money that e’er I had,

I spent it in good company,

And all the harm I’ve ever done

At least it was to none but me.

He could feel Horatio’s muscles relaxing under his hand, as though just hearing any sort of musical notes was enough for him to feel comfortable. Archie smiled and kept singing. He knew his voice wasn’t particularly elegant, but as long as it helped Horatio in some way, he couldn’t find it in himself to be embarrassed.

And all I’ve done for want of wit

To memory now I can’t recall.

So fill to me the parting glass,

Good night and joy be to you all.

He kept singing, noting every shift in Horatio’s body, ready to pull back the moment his friend seemed uncomfortable. But for the first time in a long while, Horatio seemed calm. The tension finally seemed to have left Horatio’s shoulders, and though his breath was still laden with congestion, it sounded much less hesitant than before. Only then did Archie realize that Horatio had been doing his best to prevent any coughs or sneezes from escaping. He shook his head, repressing a chuckle, as he headed into the final chorus.

But since it fell into my lot

That I should rise and you should not,

I’ll gently rise and softly call

‘Good night and joy be to you all’.

Rising from his hammock, he craned his neck to look at Horatio’s face. His eyes were closed, and miracle of miracles, he actually appeared to be smiling. Archie smiled back and lowered his voice, trying to end on a sweet note.

So fill to me the parting glass

And drink good health, whate’er befall,

Then gently rise and softly call

‘Good night and joy be to you all’.

He was silent for a moment, waiting to see if Horatio wanted more. But he was silent, and it didn’t take long for Archie to realize that he’d fallen asleep. Carefully placing his hand on Horatio’s forehead, he could feel beads of sweat starting to form, suggesting that the fever was coming close to breaking. Grinning, Archie squeezed his friend’s shoulder. “Good night and joy be to you all.” he whispered, before retreating to his trunk. It was high time he got some sleep himself.