Day 3

Title: Day 3
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Rating: G
Pairing: None
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Why does the ship's cat like to stay around the only person on the ship with an allergy to cats?
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2017-18 project project for wig_powder

As Horatio stared into those bright, golden eyes, he knew that his luck had finally run out. He rubbed his fist at his nose and held the cat's gaze as he marched over to the door to his cabin. He opened the door and pointed. “Get. Out.”

The cat stood, walked forward, and then sat back down again.

“Get. Out. Now.”

It cocked its head at him.

Horatio sighed and pointed more emphatically. “Get.. geh... ehhh... ehhh-IHchuu!” He scrubbed his fist at his nose, but that proved ineffective. So he stormed over to his trunk, opened it, and rooted around the neatly folded and arranged items until he found a handkerchief. Prone to catching colds during his early days at sea, he never traveled without several. But now that he needed one, he couldn't find one. “ihh... ihh-HIHChuu!” he sneezed again just as his hand seized upon something familiar. “hihh... eh-IH-HIHChuu!” He pulled the handkerchief out and pressed it to his nose. Then he turned, expecting to see the cat fleeing from the considerable noise through the open doorway.

The cat wasn't running out. The cat wasn't sitting in the middle of his cabin anymore either, though. Most likely, it had left at his first sneeze. Smiling in triumph, Horatio quickly shut his cabin door. He had been lucky to avoid cats during his naval career to date. Every time he'd been posted to a new ship, he had been nervous until discovering there was no cat on board or that the cat kept to a certain part of the ship and never strayed near where he needed to be. It was just like him to finally have his own command, to finally be in control of everything, only to find that the ship came with the one thing in life that made him lose control.

He had tried to get rid of it, tried to leave it behind before departing from England and tried to leave it at the first port. He even tried to put it on a French ship his own had defeated before his third officer sailed it back to England as a prize of war. But every time he did, the cat had turned up again the next day in his cabin. And how it got in his cabin, through a closed door, he couldn't figure out either. It was as if it knew that out of every member of his crew, he was the one with a terrible allergy to cats. And so it chose his cabin to sleep in.

ihhh... ihhChuuuu! Ihshu!” Horatio dabbed at his nose with the handkerchief. It always took hours for him to feel better after a run in with the cat. His eyes itched and watered a little, but mostly he just felt sneezy. At least in his cabin, there was no one to judge him as he sneezed and sneezed until the reaction died back down. There was nothing to do but wait.

So he picked up a book from his table and headed to his bunk with the handkerchief still clutched in his hand. Then he froze. The fluffy gray cat lay on his bunk, stretched out so it took up the entire middle. It looked at him with its yellow eyes and began purring and kneading into his wool blanket.

“No!” he moaned, setting his book down. He walked over to his bunk and stopped short. He didn't know how to move it. How did you handle a cat? If he picked it up, he would get fur all over himself and would probably sneeze all night long. He could go get something to push it off the bed with, but men were bound to notice and ask him what it was for. And even if he could think up an excuse, he probably wouldn't be able to keep from sneezing long enough to say it. If he pulled the blanket off the bed, perhaps it would be so annoyed it would leave? That seemed his best option.

ihhh...” He rubbed at his nose, which didn't help at all. If anything, it made his nose tickle twice as badly. “ehhh ihhChhhuu! Ihtchhhh! Ihh yihtchhhhhh!

The cat just stared at him, not at all moved by his plight. He smothered the sneezes in his handkerchief. No one would dare disturb the captain in his quarters, but if he were heard sneezing so much, the ship's doctor might be called. That was the last thing he wanted. So he pressed the handkerchief to his nose when he had to sneeze to muffle the sound as best as possible. And he kept the handkerchief at his nose when he wasn't sneezing as if breathing through the cloth might keep the allergy at bay.

With his other hand, he gripped the edge of his blanket. “One... ihhh-Chihhh! Two... ehh Yihtchuuu! Three!” He pulled the blanket. The cat howled, and the other end of the blanket flipped up in the air. When it fell back down, Hornblower saw the cat with its claws out, clinging to his mattress. How was he going to get it off his bed now?

With a sigh, he shook the blanket out. Then he felt a sharp, ticklish prickle in his nose that could not be denied. “ihh-Chishuuu! IhhShuuu! Ihh... yih-hihshuu!

The cat stared at him. Then it relaxed and tucked its fluffy gray tail around its body, settling in for the night with a satisfied look on its face.

“That's my bed!” Horatio informed it. It closed its eyes slowly at him and opened them again. The message as clear: it wasn't his bed any longer. Then the cat yawned.

Horatio stared back at the cat, realizing it would not be moved. Then it was his turn to yawn.

“Damn you.”

Irritated, he blew out the candle in his lantern, rolled up in the blanket, and lay down on the floor of his cabin.

IHH-HIHShhuuu!” He knew this would be a lot easier if the blanket weren't covered in cat fur. “HIHShhhhh! Hihhh-IHShhhh!” He scrubbed his fist at his eyes and sniffled, trying to will himself to fall asleep and end his suffering. “Hih... HIH-IHSchhhhh!” But sleep didn't work like that. “ihhh ihhh-HIHShhhh!” It never came just because he wanted it. “Hih-HIHShhhh!” He almost wished that the French or even the Spanish would attack right now, just to take his mind off it and give him an excuse to leave his cabin. “hihh-IHShhhhhh!

He could swear that, between sneezes, he heard the cat purring.


Eventually, he fell asleep, only to wake up prematurely. At first, he didn't understand what was going on. His face was hot and he couldn't breathe. He gasped and flailed and heard a loud, indignant meow. Then cool night air struck his face. He wheezed and sat up, trying to come to terms with the fact that the cat had been sleeping on his face. Why would it do that if it had a bed all to itself?

The bed! He looked over, hoping to reclaim it, only to see vaguely in the cabin the shape of the cat settling there again.

“Dabb it!” he swore again, his nose all stuffed from the sneezing he'd done earlier.

hahhhh-IHHHSHHHHH!” Oh, and his nose tickled so terribly now. He rubbed and scratched and rubbed some more, but he just couldn't get the tickle out. “hahhhTSCHhhhhh! Ihhhh-Ktchhhhh! Hihshhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Crawling across the room, he found his trunk and searched around inside for another handkerchief. “ihh HIHSHhhhhh!” He didn't want to use up all his handkerchiefs in one night and be left with nothing but the need to explain himself the next morning to his steward. But the sneezes kept coming fast and wet and uncontrollable. “ihhh-HIHShuuu! Ihhhshhhhuu!” He glared in the direction of the cat, only to find its eyes closed and its tail tucked around its body, the fluffy end over its nose.

“It's a.... ahhh... it's a good thing you're ihhhhh iihhhhhShhhhhh! so cute, cat.” Scrubbing the handkerchief at his nose, he lay down again and pulled the blanket up around him. This time, though, he slept on his side so the cat couldn't lie down on his face again.

*             *             *

Hornblower was certain he had closed his door. And his steward hadn't been in his cabin all day either. There was absolutely no way for the cat to have gotten in. Yet, there it was on his bed, beaming proudly. This set him to thinking. It wasn't as though he needed another problem to solve. He would soon be in a narrow channel, facing ships of the French fleet ahead and a fort within canon range on the side, and he was going to need strategy rather than just pure luck to get his ship out without sustaining critical damage. But there had to be a way the cat was getting in here apart from the door. 

So down on his hands and knees Hornblower went, checking for gaps in the boards or holes hidden behind things. He moved his trunk and table, he practically dismantled his bunk. He searched and scoured for an hour before he finally came upon a loose board at the top of one wall. When he pressed an end, it swung out just enough for something the size of the cat to squeeze through. “Ahh.” He felt better for figuring it out, but not much.

Holding a candle up to the area, he saw some wooden beams and joists the cat could easily have followed. It was deft and quick. “ihhh-HIHHHshhuu!” And furry. It was terribly furry. “ihh-Ktchhuu! Snfff!” He rubbed at his nose. “You know, I have half a mind to nail this passage closed and keep you out.

“Mew?” it answered him, stretching out on his blanket.

They both knew it was an empty threat.

*             *             *

The cat brought him presents. Sometimes he would wake up in the mornings, sneezing his head off, to find a dead mouse or rat on the floor of his cabin. Once, he had stepped on it and it had taken him by surprise so much he had turned his ankle and had to limp around the ship, shooting his crew stern looks to not mention the limp under pain of death.

The cat often let him sleep in his own bed. There were times he had to hunker down on the floor with a blanket still, but more often than not he was allowed to sleep on the bed as long as the cat could sleep there as well. And he had to admit that, despite the endless fits of sneezing that lasted until he all but passed out, the extra warmth in bed was welcome. He suspected that the cat felt the same. It was probably just using him for warmth, but if that was all it was, it could be curling up with any of the midshipmen down below in hammocks and open bunks. Perhaps it liked his cabin.

Or perhaps it liked him.

It couldn't possibly be that it liked his sneezing. Cats could be little devils, but even they couldn't like him keeping them awake at all hours sneezing his head off. It was his companion, and he was its.

He learned to not be surprised when he opened the door to his cabin and it was there. He learned to sleep on his chest or his side to at least keep it off his face in the middle of the night. He learned to wash his handkerchiefs when no one was looking, so he wouldn't have to explain why he was going through so many. And he learned to dunk his head in a water bucket when his face got altogether too itchy.

As far as he could tell, the cat didn't learn anything apart from the fact that if it meowed repeatedly, he would reach a hand out and pet it to quiet it down.

*             *             *

When three days passed when he hadn't seen the cat, Horatio started to grow concerned. He still sneezed whenever he was in his cabin, but he attributed it to his blanket and what cat fur must have been lingering in the room. “ihhhshuuu!” But now it seemed pointless to be miserable from sneezing without the benefit of having the cat around.

He had plenty to occupy himself with, to be sure. They had made several stops at ports for supplies and to make secret deliveries. They had engaged other ships in battle more than a half dozen times. They had made constant repairs to the ship. And they had lost several of their own. Horatio hated the idea that the cat might have been lost as well. Perhaps it had been found dead in the hold and tossed overboard and no one had even thought to bother him with the news?

Hihh-Ihtshuuu!” Perhaps these sneezes were the only thing he had left to remember the cat by?

ihhhKTchuuu! Ihhshuuu!” Horatio bent over his table, pouring over a map on his table, doing the required navigation calculations in his head. His nose itched and ran from the irritation, even as he pressed his handkerchief to his nose.


Horatio froze. Either that was the cat or a member of his crew was playing a cruel joke of which he did not approve. He cast his gaze over to the loose board, expecting to see the fluffy gray head with its golden eyes and perky pointed ears emerging from the gap in the wall. But the board was still. The ship rocked and his candle flickered and, for a moment, he had convinced himself that he had merely imagined the familiar meow.


But then it came again.

“Cat?” he called out, thinking now how silly it had been that he hadn't ever bothered to name it anything. He had always insisted he hadn't wanted it around, and what was the use of naming something like that? But now he did want it. Down on his hands and knees once more, he searched. He was sure he had heard the mew from the far corner, from the wall where the loose board was.

And, indeed, that was where he found the cat. Tucked into a corner between two walls and his trunk was a mass of long, gray fur. The two eyes looked up at him as they always did, as though it expected him to be able to read its mind and know what it wanted.

ihhh-Ktchuuu! Ihhh Kshhhhh!” He sneezed again, which was just about all he had to offer it. Then he reached down and it swatted at him with its claws. He drew his hand back, surprised and offended all at once. “What...”

And that was when he saw it. A tiny pink nose emerged from the mass of fluff, sniffing wildly. It was so tiny he might have mistaken it for a mouse. Its little eyes were squinting closed and its little ears were flat against its back. As he watched it wiggle forward, he saw more movement. There was another and then another. Three small kittens altogether, and the one large cat who Hornblower realized now must be their mother. She must have given birth while he'd been on duty, because there was no way he wouldn't have heard that.

The little cats each found a nipple and began to drink, and the gray mother cat looked up at him in warning. “You must be... ihhh-HIHshhh! Sniff! Must be hungry. I'll see if I can find a bit of fish and some cream for you.”

Looking right at him, she gave him a slow blink. He took it to mean she approved of his plan. And he headed to the galley, trying to come up with a clever excuse. But the only thing that kept running around in his head was how these four cats were now in the room of someone with a terrible cat allergy. And they had somehow still managed to get the captain of the ship serving them.