They didn’t happen every night, Horatio had learned. There wasn’t even a set pattern to it; though Simpson was the unquestionable cause of Mr. Kennedy’s fits, there was no direct correlation to Simpson’s behavior and Kennedy having a fit that night. The best explanation Horatio could come up with was that Kennedy did his best to hold himself in check, not wanting to give Simpson more ammunition against him, but that the stress had to expend itself somehow, and this was, horrifying as it sounded, the safest way to do so.
Three nights after Simpson’s attack on Horatio, Horatio was trying to fall asleep through the pain of his bruises when he heard, clear as day, the tight half-whimper that preceded one of Kennedy’s fits. He was out of the hammock in moments, quickly crossing over to Kennedy’s hammock and pressing a hand on the man’s chest to keep him from falling out. With his other hand, he gently stroked Kennedy’s hair, noting the thin sheen of panicked sweat already starting to form. “It’s all right,” he murmured into Kennedy’s ear, hoping that it was soft enough that Simpson wouldn’t be alerted to what was going on, “He won’t hurt you tonight. And it’s only two more hours until his watch, and then it’ll be time for yours. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to avoid him then.”
Kennedy’s body started shuddering under Horatio’s hand, but Horatio’s soothing tone must have penetrated somewhat, because he wasn’t crying out. “That’s right,” Horatio whispered, squeezing Kennedy’s shoulder briefly before returning to stroke his hair, “Don’t let yourself get overexcited. It’s not good for you, in the long run.”
He kept speaking gently, trying to offer what little comfort he could, feeling Kennedy’s body shake and wishing there was more he could do. At last, mercifully, Kennedy gasped loudly and slumped down in the hammock, perfectly still. After making sure that Kennedy was still breathing (a concern that he was never able to push away, no matter how many times Kennedy or Clayton assured him that such fits were unlikely to kill him), Horatio crept back to his hammock. Kennedy would remain unconscious until awoken for his watch; the one solitary benefit to these fits was that they exhausted him enough to drive away any lingering anxiety, at least for a while. Still, Horatio turned on his side, bruises be damned, and kept his eye on Kennedy’s hammock until he fell asleep himself. Kennedy had been the first one to reach out to him when Horatio had joined the Justinian; if this was the only way he could return the favor, so be it.
“Just leave me be,” Archie croaked, trying to turn his body away from Horatio but too weak to manage it, “I did what I did for a reason.”
“And it’s a reason I refuse to accept,” Horatio said, putting a firm hand on Archie’s shoulder, “You’re stronger than this. I know you’ve been through hell, but you can’t lose hope. I have no intention of leaving this prison without you, no matter what Hunter and the others think. Furthermore, I have no intention of leaving this room until you’ve eaten something.” He pressed a glass of water to Archie’s lips. “Drink.”
Archie looked him in the face then, his expression a mixture of defiant and anxious. Horatio’s tone softened. “Please drink, Archie. For my sake. I just want to feel like I’ve done all I can to help you.”
Something crept into Archie’s eyes at that, something that changed his look from a glare to a blank stare. Then, reluctantly, Archie’s lips moved over the lip of the cup. Horatio smiled, his hand moving to Archie’s neck. “Good. Just a few sips. That’s all I’m asking.”
The moment the first sip of water passed his throat, it was clear that Archie’s survival instincts finally kicked in. His hand groped around weakly, and Horatio brought the glass a bit closer, helping to cup Archie’s hand around it. He could actually hear the soft gulping noises as Archie swallowed, and the panic that had been in his chest since the moment Archie had passed out began to subside. Archie still had some fight left in him, even if a lot of it was involuntary.
When Archie gasped, Horatio took the cup away, pleased to see that it was empty. “Another?” he asked quietly, reaching for the pitcher on the side table. Archie hesitated for a moment, then nodded. Horatio refilled the glass and passed it back to him, allowing him to hold it himself; he hoped it would be enough to assure Archie that he didn’t think him weak.
Archie’s grip on the cup was a bit tighter than it should have been, but he was able to bring it to his lips with no difficulty. He drank even faster this time, water sloshing out of the glass and trickling down his cheeks. Horatio was just digging in his pocket for his handkerchief to wipe it away when Archie unexpectedly pulled the glass away, blinking rapidly. “What is it?” Horatio asked, his body immediately tensing up, prepared to grab onto Archie if a fit started up or run for the doctor if he mentioned something out of the ordinary.
“I…I…” Archie began, but he was unable to finish, as his own body tightened and his head jerked off the pillow. “Ikshew!”
Horatio blinked for a moment. Then, realizing what had happened, he relaxed and resumed digging for his handkerchief. “Bless you.” he said.
Archie nodded his thanks, one hand coming up to rub at his nose. He only managed to get halfway there before two more sneezes came upon him, causing him to bounce slightly in the bed. “Kishh! Hishh!”
“Bless you,” Horatio repeated, putting the handkerchief to Archie’s face with one hand while checking his temperature with the other, “I shouldn’t be surprised you’ve caught cold in this state. You at poor strength, and this rain…”
“N-not a cold,” Archie said, even as he sniffed thickly, “At least, not yet. It’s j…just some water up my n…” even as he said it, another sneeze burst out of him. “Nishh!”
“Bless you.” Horatio said, feeling laughter bubbling up in his throat and doing his best to keep it tamped down. As amusing as the situation was, he didn’t want to appear to be laughing at Archie’s expense. His expression must have given him away, though, because Archie shook his head at him.
“Just as expected, eh? Too weak to even drink without damaging himself.”
“Don’t ever say that,” Horatio replied, placing his handkerchief in Archie’s free hand, “You were just at a poor angle for drinking, that’s all. I’ll help you sit up, and things should go much smoother after that.”
Archie seemed unconvinced. Horatio took the glass out of Archie’s hand and began hauling him up the bed frame. “If nothing else, you should probably be in a different position when the broth I sent for arrives. If sneezing out water felt unpleasant, I can only imagine what damage a spoonful of hot soup could do.”
Archie let out a soft rasping noise at that. Horatio initially thought it was a snort of derision…but then he saw Archie’s lips twitch upwards, and realized it was a laugh. Hope flickered to life in his chest; Archie was starting to come back to himself.
“I don’t think I can do it, Horatio,” Archie said, setting down the book and massaging his temples, “There’s too much to memorize, too many variables that could be at play. Besides, if the examination board gets too hostile with me, there’s always the possibility I’ll go into a fit. Surely that will boost their confidence and prove to them that I’m worthy of being a Lieutenant.”
“Don’t think like that,” Horatio said, getting up from his chair and pouring two glasses of water, “If you go in expecting to fail, that only increases the odds that you will fail. You need to have a little more faith in yourself.”
“Says the man that routinely agonizes about whether or not the orders he barked out sounded too sharp,” Archie said, but there was no bite to his words, “And how, pray tell, am I supposed to have faith in myself?”
“Think about your strengths,” Horatio answered, passing Archie a glass, “What parts of being a sailor and an officer are you good at? Then, conversely, where are the areas you need to improve? Focus on those areas first, then brush up on the others here and there. No need to waste your study time on things you already know.”
Archie nodded, sipping at his water. “I suppose you have a point there.”
“As for your fits, well, that’s always going to be a risk. But if you try to sleep and eat well before you go for your exam, and take slow, deep breaths when you’re in front of the board, that should minimize the danger. Does that sound reasonable?”
“Yes,” Archie said, managing a faint smile, “Though whether or not I’ll be able to put it into practice, that’s hard to say.”
“I’ll make sure you eat, if that helps.” Horatio promised.
Archie chuckled. “Breakfast in bed?”
“I make no promises. It’s entirely possible I’ll wind up shoving food into your hands as you head up on deck. But I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you, Horatio,” Archie said warmly, “I appreciate it.”
“It’s no trouble,” Horatio replied, checking his watch, “Goodness, we’re long overdue for something to eat. Why don’t I head down to the mess and beg the cook for whatever scraps he has left over, and then we can pick at them while I drill you in whatever subject you feel you need the most help in?”
“All right.” Archie said, picking up a quill. As Horatio left the room, he glanced over his shoulder and saw Archie bent over a piece of paper. He had the distinct feeling Archie was making a list of his strengths and weaknesses, and allowed himself a smile. He couldn’t be certain, of course, but he felt the odds were good that Archie would pass that exam.
“Hold still, Archie!” Horatio scolded, taking a tighter grip on Archie’s shoulder as he tried to wind the bandage around his arm, “You’ll start bleeding again if you keep that up.”
“I’m sorry, Horatio,” Archie answered, crossing his legs and curling his free hand into a fist, “It just stings like the devil.”
“I can imagine,” Horatio said, giving Archie’s shoulder a faint squeeze, “But you were lucky. That Frenchman swung wildly and just grazed your upper arm. Any higher and he’d have hit your neck, any lower and you probably would have bled out right there on the deck.”
“He was probably cowering in fear from my prowess with a sword,” Archie said with a faint chuckle, “It’s the only reason for him to have been so distracted.”
Horatio smiled. “Well, you certainly were much more skilled with your sword than he was. Even with an injured arm, you managed to fight him off, and survived the rest of the boarding action, besides. So perhaps you’re right, at that.”
He finished wrapping and managed to cut and secure the bandage to Archie’s arm. “There. It’s a bit crude, but it should hold until morning, when Doctor Cornell takes a look at it again. Can I get you something for the pain?”
“I think I can manage,” Archie said, slipping his shirt back on, “Though something hot to drink wouldn’t go amiss.”
Horatio nodded and got to his feet. “I’ll see what’s available. If nothing else, I can give you my spirit ration. That’s warm in a different way.”
Archie laughed as he carefully started buttoning his shirt. “You have a point. Whatever you can bring me is fine.”
It was supposed to have been a simple mission. Captain Pellew had sent Horatio and Archie out to oversee and assist the crewmen in bringing fresh supplies on board. In theory, it was just a matter of making sure everyone was working, checking that they were being given the correct supplies in the correct amounts, and occasionally carrying an item or two. In practice, Archie had wandered down the dock to look over the supplies, leaving Horatio to talk things over with their supplier. When Horatio broke away and came to inspect the cargo himself, Archie was nowhere to be seen. Concerned, he asked the men about it, and naturally it was Matthews who pointed him to a shadowed corner near the far end of the dock. Horatio immediately strode over, uncertain if he should be worried or annoyed. “Archie?” he called out.
Archie answered him with a sneeze. “Kishhh!”
Horatio blinked and came a little closer. “Are you all right, Archie?”
He was close enough now to see Archie shake his head. “I…ishh! Heshhh!”
Archie sniffled, then spoke again, his voice sounding blocked. It took a moment of squinting for Horatio to realize that he’d pinched his nose in order to get the words out.
“It was just an unfortunate accident,” Archie began, “I was counting each box and peering into them, as ordered. Halfway down the line, I had trouble opening one of the barrels. I pulled as hard as I could, and the top flew off with a fair bit of force, which disturbed the contents. Unfortunately, said contents turned out to be pepper. I got a faceful of the stuff, and I’ve barely been able to stop sneezing since.” To prove his point, he unpinched his nose, producing another two sneezes. “Heh-chh! Chh!”
“Bless you,” Horatio said, “But why hide here?”
“Well, I wasn’t able to…dishh!...do my job in this state. And the…lishh!...light from the sun was making it worse. Besides, I’m a…a…atkishh!...a relatively new lieutenant. I thought it would be…beshh!...better to try to compose myself instead of having people look at me a…skhhh!...askance.”
While Horatio wasn’t sure that was the best course of action, he couldn’t fault the reasoning. Hell, he probably would have done the same thing himself. He nodded and gave Archie a reassuring smile. “I see. Well, I suppose the best thing to do would be to try to get a hold of yourself. Go get a drink of water and wash your face; perhaps that will calm the sneezes a bit. In the meantime, I’ll pick up where you left off. Once you’ve composed yourself, you can oversee the men. All right?”
Archie managed a nod before sneezing again. “Hishoo!”
“Bless you,” Horatio said, pulling out his handkerchief and passing it over, “Here, take this as well. Perhaps a fresh handkerchief will be easier on your nose.”
Archie accepted the cloth and gave a faint smile. “Thank you, Hora…shiew!”
Horatio laughed at the unintended and unorthodox pronunciation of his name. “Think nothing of it. Good luck, Mr. Kennedy.” Then he turned on his heel and went to track down the barrels of spices, making a mental note to be careful while opening them so that Archie wouldn’t find himself with unexpected company.
Horatio groaned and weakly brought up his hand to cough into his handkerchief. He’d somehow managed to pick up a spectacular head cold just before returning from shoreleave, and today had marked the day he’d caved in to the sideways looks people were giving him and gone to Doctor Cornell. Cornell hadn’t even told him to sit down, just touched Horatio’s forehead, pointed towards the door, and told him he was off duty for at least three days. Right now, he was in no position to argue; he could barely find the strength to roll over, much less get out of the hammock.
Someone rapped softly at the door, though the sound managed to echo in Horatio’s skull anyway. “Come in.” he said blearily.
The door swung open and then was closed fairly gently. “Doctor Cornell saw me passing by and asked me to bring this to you,” Archie said, approaching Horatio’s hammock with a steaming mug, “He says it’ll help your fever.”
Horatio dropped the handkerchief unceremoniously on his chest and reached for the mug, figuring his strength would desert him if he let his arm fall. Archie passed it over, then put his hands on Horatio’s shoulders and pulled him up slightly. Horatio groaned in protest. “I know you’d rather not,” Archie said, “But this will ensure you don’t burn yourself, spill more than you drink, or get it up your nose. I seem to recall someone helped teach me that lesson a few years ago.”
Horatio chuckled hoarsely, then swallowed the contents of the mug as fast as he could. While his congestion prevented him from fully tasting whatever was in there, enough of it got through that he shuddered violently. Archie took the mug away. “There. And now that I’ve been the bearer of bad tastes, can I bring you something more pleasant? Water? Broth? Something to read?”
Horatio started to shake his head, then thought better of it. “H-handkerchief…” He managed to say, before pressing his current handkerchief to his nose. “Eh-GISHH!!”
“Bless you,” Archie said, crossing over to Horatio’s seachest and flipping it open, “I’d say you could use more than one.”
“You may be right,” Horatio said, looking with some disgust at his current handkerchief, which was already soaked through, despite it being mid-afternoon, “Though perhaps it would just be more efficient to bring a spare sail instead.”
Archie laughed. “It’s not that bad, Horatio.”
“Tell that to my n-nose…” Horatio responded, before pressing the handkerchief to his face again. “RISHHH!!”
“Bless you.” Archie returned to Horatio’s side and carefully tucked five new handkerchiefs into a corner of Horatio’s pillow. Then he placed a sixth on Horatio’s chest. “That should be enough to get you through the worst of it. If not, just let me know, and I’ll lend you mine.”
“Archie, that’s not nece…”
“Perhaps not,” Archie interrupted, “But it’s what friends do. Like it or not, Horatio Hornblower, I’ll make sure you get through this cold with as many handkerchiefs as you need.”
Horatio weakly pulled the blanket over his shoulders and rubbed at his nose one last time with the old handkerchief. “Thank you, Archie.”
“You’re welcome, Horatio,” Archie said gently, patting Horatio’s knee before heading for the door, “And don’t worry too much about paying me back. I think the scale of favors is heavily tilted on my side.”
Unsure what he’d meant by that, Horatio just nodded vaguely and managed to raise a hand in farewell. Perhaps he’d get an explanation when Archie returned from his watch. Until then, however, he’d do his best to ignore the itch in his nose and try to get a little sleep.