Day 3

Title: Day 3
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Rating: G
Pairing: None… or slight Hornblower/Bush, but nothing overt
Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my 'verse. I don't get paid a cent to play. Please don't sue and make things worse.
Summary: Hornblower’s curiosity gets the better of him.
Note: Part of the 12 Ficlets in 12 Days project 2011-2012. Requested by wig_powder


Day 3

The young midshipman would not stop sneezing. Even Hornblower’s strongest glare and loudest throat-clearing did nothing to quiet him. He sneezed and sneezed and sneezed, with loud, wet sneezes, the sound of which drowned out whatever commands the other midshipman was trying to give to keep the timed canon-firing exercise running. The little powder monkeys froze in their tracks, staring at the sneezing officer’s magnificent display. And even Bush with the hour glass seemed transfixed.

Hornblower sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. He was getting too old for this. “All right, all right. Practice is over for today. Back to your stations, all of you.”

The various members of the crew assigned to the exercise disbanded at once, except for Bush and the sneezing midshipman. Bush tidied up the area, a smirk on his face that showed he was trying his very hardest not to laugh. The midshipman continued sneezing, but this time he slumped against the curved wall of the hold and cupped both hands to his nose and mouth as he snapped forward.

Hornblower stood, waiting for the sneezes to subside so he could have a word with the man, but the sneezes showed no sign of doing so. He waited. The man sneezed. He waited, becoming more impatient. The man sneezed. He waited, pacing behind the canons. The man sneezed. 

Finally, the man pushed away from the wall, blearily threw himself over to the stairs, and took hold of the bucket of water there, kept in case of emergencies. Fuses and fire on a ship made of wood were a bad combination, so buckets of water were kept everywhere to douse anything before it could become a danger. In this case, however, the officer dropped to his knees and dunked his head into the bucket. When he came up for air, he coughed and snuffled, but the sneezes had been thoroughly bested.

He looked up at his captain with big, brown eyes full of apology. “Sir… the gunpowder…” He stopped at Hornblower’s  unsympathetic expression. “I will not let it happen again, Sir.”

“See that you don’t.” Hornblower gestured toward the far stairs. “On your way, Midshipman.”

When they were alone, First Lieutenant Bush burst out laughing. With a bent arm out, he leaned on one of the canons. “Poor Mister Macy. It’s not fun getting gunpowder up your nose with your men and the captain watching.”

“Because it makes one sneeze one’s head off?”

“Yes, it…” Bush turned to Hornblower, head cocked. “You mean to say you’ve never accidentally inhaled a bit of gunpowder, Horatio?”

Hornblower bristled slightly at being addressed so informally. The only time Bush ever addressed him by his given name was when he was talking of Hornblower as a man, not a captain. And that hardly ever happened outside of the captain’s quarters. But given that the two of them were alone now, he would allow Bush this liberty. In fact, he would return it in kind. “No, William, I have never inhaled gunpowder. At least, I don’t believe I have.”

“Oh,” Bush chuckled. “You would remember if you had.”

Hornblower swiftly changed the subject. “I believe you have the watch this evening?”

With a nod, Bush touched his hand to his hat. “I shall take my leave, Sir.”

Horatio was left alone with the canons. And the gunpowder. Curiosity was not an easy thing for him to resist, but he carefully considered the consequences of making himself sneeze his head off on purpose and decided it was not worth it. So, instead, he retired to his cabin for a bit of rest and dinner.

He didn’t realize that the idea had been bouncing around in the back of his head until he happened to pass Midshipman Macy on the deck. The young man was practicing his knots and practically jumped when Hornblower acknowledged his work. “You’ve done a good job mastering those knots, Midshipman.”

He flushed furiously. “Th-thank you, Sir.”

Before Hornblower knew it, he was back down with the ship’s canons. Some of the powder cartridges sat ready for action by the ramming rods in their holders. Hornblower approached them, glancing around. It was so rare to find one’s self alone on a ship with so many hands, but there wasn’t a soul in sight to witness this. It seemed to be something everyone understood, even Bush. And he had watched Midshipman Macy the day before, but he had a hard time believing just smelling a bit of powder could cause such an extreme, uncontrollable reaction.

Hornblower leaned over and sniffed. He could smell the light scent of gunpowder, but his nose certainly didn’t tickle from it. He was almost willing to leave it at that, but he took another step forward and inhaled more deeply. The smells of the ship were usually overwhelming. They had taken some getting used to back when he was a midshipman, but now they were as familiar to him as his own hat. The ship smelled of livestock, sweat, and unwashed men. But he could still detect that heavy and smokey smell of gunpowder hanging in the air. It was rather intoxicating.

 Yet, there was no nagging tickle in his nose. The gunpowder wasn’t actually in his nose, however. With one final glance around to make sure no one was watching, Hornblower leaned over and took a deep breath in and out. Then he stuck his nose right into one of the cartridges and snorted a noseful as if it were snuff, which usually made him sneeze a bit on its own.

At once, the feeling was like burning in both of his nostrils and he regretted his curiosity immediately. He gave a cough, trying to catch his hitching breath as his heart raced and eyes watered. A second later, he was overwhelmed by the urge to sneeze. A second after that, he did sneeze. “heh-ehh-EHTchhh! Hetchooo!” He raised a fist to his mouth, pressing his finger against his nose. “ihChoo!

Unlike his sneezes when he had the misfortune of catching a bad cold, his sneezes now came in short, dry little bursts that he could not restrain, no matter how he tried. “ehShoo! Ih-ih-ihShoo!” When he had a cold in his nose, he was usually able to hold his sneezes in until he was in a position to suffer alone. “ihTchhhh!” These were impossibly strong.

eh-hehshhh!” It took his whole body to sneeze them out, shaking, wheezing, and rocking. “ehTchhhh! Eeee-ehshhhh!” The more he sneezed, the more his burning nose seemed like it were on fire. “heh-Ketchoo!” Each sneeze felt so good. “heh-Tchhhh!” Each sneeze offered some relief. “Eh-hehshoo!” But the relief lasted only for a brief moment. “ehhh-Hehshhh! Ketchoo!” And then more sneezes struck. “HahShoo!” He couldn’t do a thing about them.

“Care for a handkerchief, Horatio?”

Hornblower pried his eyes open just long enough between sneezes to catch a glimpse of Bush perched on the nearby stairs. He wanted to answer in the affirmative. He tried to answer, in fact. But his mouth hung open as if that were its permanent position and his nostrils flared with ticklish need. “ehTchhh! Hitchh! Ehtchhh!” All he could do was nod.

ihTchoo! Eh-tchhhh!” Despite the sneezes, he heard footsteps—boots against wood. Hornblower put his hand out to make a grab for the hanky. But his hand only hit rough, warm wool and cold, brass buttons. “EhTchoo! EhTchphh!” He felt the handkerchief press against his face, held by Bush.

If he could speak, he would have thanked Bush for carrying on his person a handkerchief that was so thick and large. He nuzzled his face into it and marveled at the way Bush massaged his nose through the cloth, easing the sneezes out and comforting his irritated nose at the same time.

hetchphh! Ihshffff! Etchuffff! Ehh-hehhh-ketchfff!” He felt Bush’s other hand on his back.

“I could throw a bucket of water over your head,” Bush offered.

Though he knew it was a joke, Hornblower grunted a ‘no’ to him. But he did concentrated now on catching his breath. “ehh-hetchff! Ihshfff! Ehketchphhhh!” Finally he blew out through his nose, into the waiting hanky. “ehtchooffff!

The sneezes tapered off at last. Bush folded the hanky so that a dry spot was now wiping against Hornblower’s nose. Hornblower found himself leaning into Bush for support. The sneezes had utterly exhausted him; he even felt a bit shaky now. “How fortunate that you happened by at this very moment.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it. I spotted you sneaking away to come down here and could easily guess what you were up to.” He chuckled again. “The next time you wish to do something like this again, might I suggest doing so in the privacy of your cabin? Anyone could have seen you down here sneezing your head off.”

“My head is still on,” Hornblower pointed out. “ehhh-Hitchhh! Sniff! Well, barely. Sniff! Your suggestion is noted and appreciated. As is your hanky. I am amazed at your foresight.”

“I know how curious you can be. And we all know about curiosity…”

Hornblower rubbed his nose. “I must learn to repress my curiosity in situations such as these.”

“Never.” Bush shook his head emphatically. “You would not be Horatio Hornblower if you did not have a driving desire to learn and experience and grow.”

ehtchoo!” His nose felt infinitely better, but he was still a little bit sneezy. “Sniff! From now on, I will better trust the wisdom of my officers, sniff, and you in particular.”

Bush patted the man on the back. “And I’ll have a handkerchief at the ready just in case.”