Day 1

Title: Day 1
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Rating: G
Pairing: Hornblower/Miria mentioned
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Hornblower has the worst cold of his life, but he has trouble figuring out where to go because of it.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2013 project for wig_powder

Now that Hornblower had been delivered back home, he no longer had to project an image of a proper post-captain. He could give into the misery that was his head cold in the relative privacy of his own home. With any luck and perhaps a day of rest, he would be prepared and well whenever his orders came in.

Luck, it seemed, was not on his side. As soon as he walked in the door and attempted to shake the excess water off his boat cloak, the landlady stopped him in his tracks. “Now, now. I’m sorry to have to do this to you, Sir, but I’m not to let you in.”

“But this is my house, is it not? My family is here, my things…” his handkerchiefs. Hornblower pulled his handkerchief out now and pressed it to his face. He turned away from her, it being his only option as a sneeze built in his nose. “My… my-Hihh-shooo!” And it brought with it a companion. “IhhhChoo!

“Bless you, Sir,” said the landlady, as she stood in the doorway, blocking his entry. Behind her, Hornblower could see Emily carrying little Horatio, who had managed quite brilliantly to spill much of his dinner down his front and was therefore in desperate need of a bath. And he could hear the cries of his newest little one, his new baby girl, calling out to her mommy for a feeding, he suspected. Then he looked again at the landlady, not sure of what to make of the predicament in which he now found himself. “But I’m under strict orders from the midwife, you see. And your wife thought it was for the best as well. They don’t want your cold catching, you see, not with a newborn baby in the house. Best to keep it to yourself, I should say. I am sorry about this, Sir.”

Hornblower dabbed the handkerchief at his nose. Well, that did make perfect sense, however inconvenient it was for him to suddenly be turned out of his own home at a time when the comfort of his bed was the one thing he craved. “Well, if they think it best, I’ll not argue.” Nor, in fact, did he have the strength in him to do so. In one day he had had audiences with two members of royalty; even one such instance would be an exhausting adventure, but two and now he was done for.

“I’ve had Emily pack a small case for you, Sir. A change of clothes and some extra handkerchiefs too, I shouldn’t wonder. You’ll be able to find a place to hang your head until it’s less full of the sneezes?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied, though no such place came to mind.

“Very good, Sir.”

And, with that, he was turned out with a piece of luggage, back to standing in the rain, breathing in the cold, January air.  Even fogged up with cold, Hornblower managed to fix upon several possible solutions, as he stood there, contemplating his options. The first was that he could find temporary lodgings at a nearby inn. There he would find a warm bed, a tended fire, a hot meal, and hot bricks to put at his chilled and rain-damp feet. This would be a luxury he was not used to and did not expect. The drawback would be that a dozen strangers at the inn might see him when he was sick. And, worst, they would wonder what he was doing there and not at home. Perhaps they would think his wife had kicked him out for doing something most unlike a gentleman. Perhaps they would think worse. As he saw it, his other option would be to stay on board the Atropos. The ship’s company was certainly not complete, and he would either have to venture out for vitals or eat basic rations with the others as he would not have a personal steward. But it would mean sleeping in his own bed, in his own space—one he would have to get used to again as orders could come in at any moment. He also would be surrounded by his men, who might see him in this weakened and compromised state. Neither option seemed ideal.

He found himself turning and knocking on the door to his own house. He shivered as the rain came at him along with a cold gust of air. When the door opened at last, and the landlady stood before him with an expression that showed she was not especially pleased to see him back already, he tried to speak. But the moment he opened his mouth, a sneeze burst from him. “ihhhChusssh!  Oh, I am sor… sorry…” He had barely managed to get his hand up in time, the spray a fine mist against it. Why the sneeze couldn’t have stuck when he’d been alone seconds before, Hornblower didn’t know. But he did know he was about to sneeze again. “I… I-hehhhShooo!” This time, he managed to get his handkerchief out. And for the third, he turned his back to her, trying to preserve just the last bit of dignity left in him. “Excu… ihhh-excuse-ihh-Shooo! Excuse me.”

“God bless you, Mr. Hornblower, Sir. I know it’s not pleasant, being put out of your own house when you’re not feeling well. But I’m afraid I have no choice in the mat—“

He waved his hand dismissively at her as he sniffed wetly into the handkerchief. “No.” His word was muffled by the cloth. He gave his nose a good rubbing and lowered the hanky. “No, I only wanted to leave word of my whereabouts. Please sniff! Sniff! SNIFF!” Reluctantly, he gave into the sniffles and rubbed at his nose again, lest it run too embarrassingly free. He felt the need to sneeze again, but he had suffered enough humiliation and refused to allow any more. He willed the sneeze back. After clearing his throat, he tried to speak again. “Please tell my wife I’ll be at my ship. And have any messages delivered there, if you please.”

“Oh, yes. Of course.” He tipped his hat in a gesture of gratitude and made a hasty retreat. It took him only a moment before another sneeze struck. “huhShhhh! Heh-Ihshooo!” This was no good at all. It was as if all the sneezes that had been playing at him all morning and all the ones he’d kept at bay while being presented to His Majesty the King were, somehow, catching up with him now.

In all haste, he made for his ship. He hadn’t made up his mind about his choices until he had been standing there, telling his decision to the landlady. There were positives and negatives about both options. But, in the end, staying on board the ship would be free, compared to an inn where he would need to pay every time he asked for another hot brick from the fire. He didn’t want or need someone fussing over him and his leaking nose; all he needed was a warm, dry place to curl up and endure the misery until it was gone. Waiting it out had always worked in the past. And so long as he didn’t lose his voice or run out of dry handkerchiefs, it was as good a plan as any just now.

At least he would not have to spend a long evening telling Miria interminable details about what had gone on at court. Hornblower stopped in his tracks. Miria. He should have given the landlady a message for her. He should have said that the meeting had gone as well as could be expected, perhaps better, and to give her his love. All he had been thinking about was how word would be sent about his orders and he hadn’t wanted a message to be lost now that he was staying on the Atropos. Hornblower thought briefly about turning back, but he would look the fool on top of this now quite sneezy head cold. So he continued onward instead, his pace slowed as he had to stop and sneeze every few paces. “hihshooo… hah-hahShooo… ehh… ehhhShoo!

As he reached his gig, he tucked his handkerchief away and immediately felt yet another sneeze coming on. He tried sniffing it away, though the sound brought with it glances from the gig’s crew anyway. He was already wet from the walk and the wind, besides. So, in the end, he took out his handkerchief and cupped it to his face, squeezing his nose between its folds. He could feel his nostrils rebelling, desperate to sneeze. And, indeed a couple sneezes did strike as the boat left Deptford Dock and headed down the stream to where the Atropos lay. But even he had barely been able to hear them, muffled and suppressed as they were in the thick handkerchief. “hnxt! Heh-ngstt!” Tiny, annoying sounds that stole his breath and what little energy he had left at the end of the day. The sneezes, still strong, tossed him forward in his seat, drawing unwanted attention that simply could not be helped for the short ride to his ship.

He was relieved, therefore, when he looked up to see Lieutenant Jones lowering a ladder for him. The coxswain held the gig relatively stable beneath the ship, allowing Hornblower to climb it, followed by one of the crew with his case. Even though he still felt the need to sneeze, he put the handkerchief away when speaking with his Lieutenant. He noticed that everyone on the deck was still in respect for his entrance, and there was a little bronze whistle at the ready to signal the captain was now aboard. Hornblower waved it all off at once, preferring his men to continue the jobs at which they were no doubt proficient. “I will be staying on board for a few days. No need for any fanfare, the usual ceremony can wait until we have our orders in full and I come aboard to ship off.”

“Yes, Sir.” The man looked somewhat relieved. “Can I send you something? Tea? An extra blanket?”

Of course Jones must have seen Hornblower with the handkerchief from his position on watch and assumed the worst. Or perhaps he was merely trying to be a good first officer and anticipate his captain’s needs; that was commendable enough, though Hornblower did not like being on the receiving end of anything like sympathy when he felt so dreadfully wretched. Hornblower shook his head. “I will be fine, though I must retire to my… cab…” Oh, blasted tickle! Why did it have to strike just now? He straightened up, trying to look as tough and regal as possible as he rubbed one bent index finger mercilessly at his nose.

Mercifully, the strategy worked, and he went with increased haste to his cabin. Upon shutting the door behind the crewman with his case, Hornblower at once shed his sou’wester and boat cloak. It would have been proper to hang them on their hooks by the door to his cabin, but he instead left them in a pile on the floor. Now that he was alone and could sneeze all he liked, he found his nose just as unaccommodating as when he had been on deck. Before, he had not wanted to sneeze. Now, he could not seem to make himself sneeze. He stood with his mouth slightly open, tongue heavy and limp, eyes closed. He focused on his tickling nose and the sharp tickle every time he tried fruitlessly to breathe through it. But it was no good; no sneeze would come.

Frustrated and sniffling, Hornblower made for his packed case. Inside was a soft dressing gown to change into a stack of handkerchiefs, the sight of which made his nose somehow tickle maddeningly all the more. He changed and snatched a dry one up, retreating to his bed. It was nowhere as comfortable as it might have been, but he realized now why his Lieutenant had offered to get him another blanket. The one there was meager, barely enough material to fit him beneath.

He had had worse, though, certainly. And he found himself curling up around the handkerchief when another bout of sneezes came at him. “ihhhShooo! hihhChooo! hihShuhh!” He paused, rubbing at his nose, and then indulged in a blow. The relief was so immense that he blew his nose again, rubbed it, and then proceeded to blow his nose another three times until the handkerchief was rendered virtually useless.

But he didn’t care. For the first time that day, his nose felt dry and he was warm and lying down. For this he was grateful. And it didn’t take long at all for him to fall right to sleep, as though they were in open water, having already left port for parts unknown on a mission of duty and adventure.