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The Virtue of Fools

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The walls of the inn were thick. Its occupants, cups empty at last after a heady evening, slept heavily. Here on shore there was no midnight watch, no busy hallway, no risk of exposure. But in their corner room with its curtains drawn close and door locked tight, William and Horatio made love in silence.

The hush was a practiced one, cultivated over months of stolen moments. Safe in their bed, a bed that was soft and snug and stood firmly upon the unmoving ground, gasps were stifled, lips were bit, palms were pressed firmly to quiet moans of pleasure even as they were coaxed higher. It had become a game to them as much as a necessity.

Tonight, William had decided that he would win that game. He wanted to hear those moans unmuffled by bedsheets or kerchiefs, wanted to break Horatio's impossible self-control, wanted him to cry out his name as he came. Oh God, how he wanted it! The desire inflamed him. Horatio had reacted with surprise and amusement at first, but now his lover and captain was flushed and panting, and his legs wrapped around William's waist tight enough to bruise. William's hands clenched around Horatio's spread arms, pinning them to the bed. He growled under his breath and thrust harder, faster. At last Horatio bucked beneath him and came, and William was pulled along. He collapsed against Horatio, his cheek pressed into Horatio's shoulder, and tried to calm himself. Silent as ever.

Beneath him, Horatio's chest was heaving, and he gave the quietest of whimpers. He tightened himself around William and then went limp, and as he did so he spoke a word. It took a moment for William to realize what he had heard, but when he did he found himself unable to breathe for a moment, and his hands loosened their grip. Horatio stilled beneath him and slid sideways, pushing himself up against the headboard. A minute passed, and the silence within it was worse than any that had come before. Finally, William rolled upright.

"I... William...," Horatio stammered over the words. "I didn't mean..." He reached out and laid a hand on William's arm. William pulled away sharply, and then stumbled clumsily off the bed. "William," Horatio pleaded, "William, please, wait..."

"No," William said, and he hastily pulled on his clothing. "No," he repeated, his voice dull with pain. He shoved his feet into his shoes and it was only habit that made him grab his coat. He struggled with the door before realizing it was still locked, and his hands shook as he turned the key to open it. Behind him, Horatio slid out of the bed, pulling a sheet around himself as he went. William wrenched the door open and hurried down the stairs and outside into the cold morning.

It was an hour before Horatio found him, sitting on the beach and watching the tall ships sway ponderously in the dockyard. William did not reply to his call as he approached, nor did he turn to face him when Horatio sat in the sand next to him. The wind from the sea gusted around him and he shivered. He'd forgotten his socks, and his queue was undone.

At last he looked at Horatio, who had not forgotten his socks, nor his hat. His coat was neatly buttoned and his hat straight upon his head. The fringe of his epaulette fluttered against his shoulder; an hour ago William's cheek had rested there, but now the only outward sign that they had lain together was the mark on his lip, where Horatio had bitten through the skin to keep from screaming as he came. Bitterly, William wished that bite worse, if that would have stopped the word that had followed.

"I looked for you in half the pubs in town," said Horatio, "and then I thought you might be at the docks. It must have been a strange sight, a ship's captain running around in a panic, asking if anyone has seen his... William, I--"

"You still love him," William interrupted. "Dead over a year and you do not let him go."

"He was..." Horatio took a deep breath. "I will never forget him. You cannot ask me to forget him."

"I do not ask you to forget him!" said William, his voice rough. "I would never ask that."

"Then what--"

"His name. You spoke his name."

"Archie," breathed Horatio, and he closed his eyes. "I am sorry, William. I did not mean to. I did not wish to hurt you." He looked at William and saw that he had turned away to look out at the sea.

"When we are together," William whispered, "is it him you see?"

Horatio paled, stricken. "No," he said, "no, I see you." He grabbed at William's arm, turned him to face him. "I see you beside me."

"You see him too." Horatio opened his mouth to deny it, but as he looked into William's eyes the words vanished from his tongue. "You still mourn him. In your heart."

Horatio took William's hand and brought it to his chest. "Do you think my heart so small that there is only room for one?"

William looked at him sadly. "No, I do not think that." William pulled his hand away and Horatio let it go. "But I cannot... I cannot replace him. I do not want to be his replacement."

Horatio struggled to speak. "I... He was... Archie is gone. He is gone and I am here. You are not in place of him, I..." he swallowed, "I care for you deeply. Please, I cannot lose you, too."

"I am not yours to keep," William said, a little unkindly. At the hurt in Horatio's eyes he softened. "Horatio, I am sorry, but... it is not me you reach for at night. I have watched you sleep. It is his name you whisper in your dreams."

Horatio looked down at the sand, took a shuddering breath. "It is."

"You must let him go."

He nodded slightly. "I cannot," he said, and watched as William stood and walked slowly away.

"Fire!" Horatio yelled, and the cannons gave out a series of deafening booms. They had engaged a French sloop of war just off the coast of Brittany and were now in the middle of a firefight. A cannonball screamed past, crashing into an unfortunate seaman and throwing him over the side. Horatio winced in sympathy and called out again for the cannons to be fired.

"Fire!" William was shouting his own orders at the Marines. Several Frenchmen fell screaming, and then an answering volley of gunshots was fired back at them. As he ducked, Horatio looked towards William again, expecting to hear his familiar yell, and his heart skipped a beat. William was not there. Someone gave the order and the Marines fired again, and the cannons fired, and then the French ship was veering away, escaping on the prevailing wind.

They had won, but all Horatio could think of was...

He pushed away the hands patting him on the back, celebrating their victory, and hurried over to where he had last seen William. He wove through the crowded deck, his stomach clenching tighter as he approached his destination. A seaman and a marine were bending over, and the man they tended to wore dark blue pants. William.

"Get the doctor!" he cried, kneeling to see how bad it was. William was bleeding, his eyes were closed, oh God. "Mister Bush," he said, slapping his cheek lightly. "Mister Bush, can you hear me?" William moaned softly, and his face screwed up in pain as consciousness returned. "Where is the damned doctor?" Horatio demanded.

"Right here, sir," said the doctor, who sat down and began to carefully pull open William's coat. "Don't worry, sir, I'll have him fixed up in no time." The doctor gave him a look that clearly said the captain of the ship had better things to do than get in the way of his mending. Horatio stole one last glance at William and then went to find someone to yell at. His hands were shaking, and he clenched them tightly behind his back.

The door to William's cabin was ajar, and when Horatio knocked lightly upon it, it creaked open further.

"Come," William's voice was tired, and Horatio entered to find him slouched in his chair, shirt and coat half-off, and a large white bandage wrapped around his stomach. He was clearly exhausted, barely able to keep his head up. Horatio closed the door behind him and crouched in front of his lieutenant.

"How bad is it?" he asked. The doctor had sent word that William would be fine after some care and bedrest, but hearing the words did not compare to being here with William, with laying a comforting hand on his arm.

"Not so bad. Damned Frog was a poor marksman." William gave a small laugh, then winced and curled into himself. He was pale, and his brow was damp and cool against the back of Horatio's hand. William leaned into it slightly and sighed. "Stitches," he said. "Hate stitches, they always pull." Horatio glanced over at the half-empty bottle of rum on William's table. Medicinal, he thought.

"Come on, let's get this off." He carefully guided William out of his coat and shirt, then folded them and piled them neatly on the table. Then he wrapped his arm carefully around William's back and guided him up and over to the cot. A few minutes of cautious maneuvering later, William was lying back against the pillows, an extra blanket over his legs. Horatio felt his forehead again. His hand slipped down to caress his cheek.

"I feared I had lost you," he said. He bit his lip; he hadn't entirely meant to say that aloud.

"As you lost him?" William's voice was slurred from exhaustion, pain, and drink, but his eyes were surprisingly clear. Horatio stared back at him. In the months since the argument they had been formal with each other, but beneath their civility nothing about that morning had been forgotten. Horatio pulled his hand back and rested it on his lap.

"Yes. But also as I lost you." He took a deep breath. "I am sorry, William. For my behavior. I mourned so long that I forgot how to stop." William snorted.

"Have you finally remembered? Or do you now plan to mourn me in his place?"

Horatio gave a small, wry smile. "I have remembered."

A pause, and then: "Do you still see him in your dreams?"

"I would be lying if I said I did not," Horatio replied. "But you are in my dreams also, and when I close my eyes it is not his name I whisper. I meant what I said, on the beach. I love you, and I will not lose you to past grief."

"That is not what you said on the beach," William said. Horatio glowered at him, but then saw that William's eyes were creased in happiness instead of pain. "That is better than what you said." Horatio's smile grew.

William reached up and pressed his hand against Horatio's heart. "Is there room there now?" William asked. Horatio placed his own hand over William's, warming the cool fingers beneath his own.

"So much that it echoes," Horatio replied. William moved his hand around and pulled Horatio close.

"Say my name," he whispered. "Kiss me and say my name."

"William," Horatio breathed, and he kissed him deeply. "William, William." He wrapped his arms carefully around him and trailed kisses down his neck, repeating his name like a litany. William moaned softly, his cheeks and chest flushing pink under Horatio's touch.

"More," William murmured. "Again."

Horatio gave a devilish smile into William's neck and reached one hand down to slide under the covers. William shuddered as Horatio gripped and stroked, as he repeated 'William' in time with his actions, as he kissed his neck and chest.

It was not long before William gasped and came. His chest rose sharply under Horatio's lips and his cock pulsed in his hand. Eventually he stilled. Horatio wiped him clean with a kerchief, then moved back up to kiss his lips passionately.

"Is that better?" he asked, unable to keep the smirk from his face.

"Horatio," William breathed. "Ow," he said, and pain knit his brow.

"What is it, what's wrong?" Horatio pulled back the cover in concern, but there was no blood on the bandages.

"Stitches," said William. "They always pull." Horatio laughed in relief, then leant forward and kissed William on the forehead.

"Get some rest," he said. "Heal. Captain's orders." He tucked the covers up around him. "I do not wish to mourn you."

William looked up at him with sleepy eyes. "I do not wish to be mourned."

"Sleep," Horatio said, and he sat and smoothed William's hair until his breathing evened and he drifted off. "Perhaps you are not mine," he whispered, "but never forget that I am yours." He stood, straightened his uniform, and left the room quietly.

In his sleep, William smiled.

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