Day 5

Title: Day 5
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Rating: R
Pairing: Horatio/Archie
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Archie has a sneezekink and Horatio is causing him some problems.
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2019-20 project project for wig-powder

Part I

Lately, Midshipman Archie Kennedy had begun to feel as though his life were nothing more than a series of misfortunes. Every time something seemed good, the result turned out to be just the opposite. He had been thrilled to join the Navy for king and country… until he realized that peacetime operations weren’t exactly exciting. He had been glad to be posted to the Indefatigable… until he had met Simpson. And he had had been pleased by the easy friendship he had developed so quickly with the newest midshipman, Horatio Hornblower… until the man had come down with a particularly nasty cold in his head.

Horatio Hornblower simply could not stop sneezing from it. A sneeze would grip him and stop him in his tracks, no matter what he was doing, and Archie would stop as well, hating himself for watching but unable to look away. Horatio would sneeze into his sleeve or his handkerchief or even a rag, if that was his only option, and Archie thought the sound so delightfully full and wet that he almost couldn’t contain himself. Then Horatio would get this look of relief on his face when a sneeze was over and done with, like it had felt so good to let it out, and Archie envied him that release. But then Horatio’s nose would start running or twitching almost immediately thereafter and the entire pattern would repeat. Day and night, there was no respite. And if it was wearing Horatio out, it was doing the same to Archie.

For as long as Archie could remember, he had been attracted to sneezes. A sneeze from someone in the audience would catch his attention when he attended theater with his parents, for example, but it was more than just something he noticed. He felt warm and aroused by them in a way that he knew was not at all natural, and yet in a way that could not be helped. Dear God, he had certainly tried. Ignoring it hadn’t worked. And his one and only attempt to desensitize himself to the effects had only ended in his hiding in a public privy, taking himself in hand for what was the most amazing, pleasurable sensation he had ever experienced. He would have been more embarrassed by it if he hadn’t felt so bloody good.

Over the years, he had learned to hide it relatively well. Constantly attuned to the sounds of hitching breath or a sniffle, he had learned to brace himself, to breathe slowly, to tamp down on his reaction. And he had thought himself relatively successful in it… until Horatio showed up, caught a cold, and ruined it all.

Hehhhpbshhhhh! Ehhhgxshhh!

The downpour and fierce winds made for rough waters, made all the more dangerous as the darkness of night blinded them to any other dangers. All hands—well and unwell alike—had been desperately needed to secure and protect the ship. So Horatio, who should have been snoring away in his hammock this night, was out in the rain like the rest of him, nose unchecked and terribly sneezy. They took in the sails, secured the rigging, redistributed weight, all while being soaked to the skins. Archie ended up bailing water collecting on the deck not far from where Horatio was tying down the ends of a canvas covering that had gotten loose.


If anyone were paying Archie the least bit of attention, they would surely have noticed his rise, the way it made his rain-soaked trousers tent like an army setting up camp, getting ready for battle. But there battle no war here apart from the one the crew was raging against the storm. Instinctively, Archie looked around, making sure that Simpson wasn’t nearby. The man had an uncanny knack for sneaking up on him, and the very last thing Archie wanted was Simpson with any knowledge of what made Archie feel good, because the devil would surely find a way to destroy it.

hehh-IHHShhkkkkkk! Sniff! ehhh… ehhhHSHhhxxxxxt!

And it would be such a terrible thing to destroy this. Because Horatio’s sneezes were quite possibly the most wonderful ones Archie had ever heard. He longed to hear another one, and he was not disappointed.

Horatio’s whole body tensed. It reared back as he drew a heavy, congested breath. And then he snapped forward. “hehhhSHKkkkuhhh!” It was too dark out for Archie to see much more of him than his silhouette, but he could imagine the way his face must look, cheeks red from the chill, nose wet from the sneezes. Archie felt for him, being out here in the rain with a cold like this. But there was nothing either of them could do about this situation.

hehh… hehhhhh-Hepbbshtttttt! Ehhhptchhhxxxxxx!

So Archie was resigned to listening, caught between desperately wanting more and hoping not to be found out wanting more. It wasn’t as if Archie could tell Horatio about this. Archie didn’t know the man very well yet, but he was certain Horatio would not understand. How could anybody?


Part II

“She’s not setting sail with us.”

“Certainly not. Bad luck, that’d be.”

“Bad luck to even have a woman set foot on board.”

As the top of the woman’s hat appeared over the side of the ship, Hornblower put a stop to the crew members’ whispers. He wasn’t taking any chances that they might be overheard. “Hush,” Horatio commanded. “She and her husband are the captain’s guests tonight, and you’ll show them the same respect as anybody.”

“Aye, Sir,” said Matthews, always quick to speak for the men in times like this. And the whispering did indeed cease—for the moment, at least.

Horatio straightened up, standing at attention in his finest, which was admittedly not at all so fine. His hat was a bit battered, his coat missing a button, and his uniform wrinkled. He prayed that the two dignitaries would be too eager to dine with the captain take any notice. But, to his horror, they insisted on being introduced to all the officers. 

As they made their way down the line, shaking hands and curtseying at each introduction, a fresh wave of horror struck Horatio as he realized his nose was growing itchier and itchier. There was a thick, floral scent in the air that couldn’t possibly be just the flowers on top of the lady’s hat. It was stronger, more concentrated, like a perfume. But whatever the source, it was making him feel like he needed to sneeze. The sensation was acute, for sneezing on the captain’s important guests was surely not the welcoming impression he wished to make.

He watched them move closer and closer, and the urge to sneeze grew stronger and stronger. It blossomed into a fierce tickle, and he knew that if he didn’t do anything about it, he was definitely going to sneeze. It would be loud and wet and terrible and Simpson would never, ever let him forget it even if somehow the Captain saw fit to keep him on board, which wasn’t a given. He quickly lifted his hand and gave his nose a strong rub. The tickle prickled sharply for just a moment then died down.

The guests were almost upon him now, and he tried to remain calm, tried not to breathe in the scent. His eyes watered as he took the outstretched hand of the gentleman and gave it a firm shake. Then he took the lady’s hand and pressed his lips to the back. The tickle in his nose flared up terribly, and he clenched his teeth, trying to keep a warm smile on his face until they moved on to Archie beside him. He wanted to stomp his foot, wanted to pinch his nose, wanted to flee. But he put on a charming smile and hoped he could hold back his sneezes just long enough.

As soon as their gaze had passed him, he could stand it no longer. He brought a hand up to his face, clenched in a tight fist, and pressed it to his mouth, one finger applying pressure to his nose. He tried to look as though this were a pose he struck merely to think better, but his nostrils flared wildly against the touch, and he feared that all hope at decorum was already lost. The tickle in his nose was as strong and persistent as ever. It would not be ignored.

Bracing himself as his breath began to hitch, he closed his eyes. Perhaps if he could not see the world, the world might not see his shame? “hnxxx!” He managed to hold it back for the most part, with only a small bob of his head at the release. But he kept his fist at his face, knowing more would follow.

Archie’s head whipped to the side, staring at him wide-eyed. He suddenly seemed to understand what was wrong but, like Hornblower, must not have seen any way out of the situation.

The guests gave him a quizzical look but moved on to the officer to Archie’s right. As soon as they did, Archie gripped his arm in support and understanding. And that gesture of solidarity when they were supposed to be standing still and at attention was so dear and heartwarming that Hornblower couldn’t help giving him a weak smile. But he kept his fist raised and ready as another one struck. “h’Ngtt!

The tickle was so much worse now, from being so close to the scent. And the only known remedy was to sneeze. It was what his body was begging for, and his control was beginning to falter. “heh-hnxxt! Hnnttt!

“… dismissed!”

The word barely registered with Horatio, whose nose was twitching and breath racing. He was no longer aware of his surroundings or his station. He just needed to sneeze! And there, in front of him, far too close to be proper, was Archie. Archie with a concerned look in his eyes. Archie shielding him from anyone who might see this struggle. Archie with a hand outstretched, holding out a handkerchief for him.

Horatio took the handkerchief with all the gratitude in the world and immediately buried his face in its folds. Finally, he allowed himself to let go. “Hutchuum! Hetchhmph! Huhshhoom!” He felt Archie’s hand take his elbow and guide him away further. He followed blindly, tears welling in his eyes from the sneezes both held back and let loose. “hehhhShhmmm! Hehpshumm!

He had no idea to where he was being led, but he understood when it was safe for him to lean against part of the ship and just give in to the allergy fit. With any luck, that would allow the tickle in his nose to pass. “hehhh… hehhSHummmm!” It felt so bloody good to sneeze. And it felt just as good to be with Archie. “Th-thank you hehhShmmph! For your ehh ehhhSHmmmm! Your attentiveness, Mister Keh… Kehhhh hehhhhIHShhmmmmm!

Archie bit his lip and stroked Hornblower’s arm comfortingly. “We’ll talk after you’re done, ah, done sneezing. All right?”

Horatio nodded his agreement, though his mouth was already hanging open and his breath hitching. “heh heh hehhh Ishmmphhhhh!

It was some time before he felt himself again. He wiped his eyes dry with a corner of the handkerchief and wiped his nose dry with another. Snuffling like a boy instead of a man, he was grateful once more when he felt Archie’s fingertips touch his cheek, tender and intimate and caring and understanding all the things he loved wrapped into one.

“Do you know,” Archie began, in a whisper so soft it was very nearly lost to the creaks and ambient noise from other parts of the ship. “Do you know how it feels to desire?”

He opened his eyes and found Archie’s face crashing into his with a wet, needy kiss. This was inexplicable but nonetheless a pleasant surprise. He returned the kiss, balling the damp handkerchief up in one hand as he took tight hold of the man’s jacket in his other. The passion seized him, lust blossoming within him not unlike the tickle had, only this was felt much lower down. “I… have some idea,” Horatio replied breathily against Archie’s cheek.

“For as long as I can remember, I have desired something unnatural.” Archie spoke with his eyes closed, as if he were scared of seeing the confession made real.

Horatio reassured him. “I know. It is all right, Archie. I feel it, too.” They rarely spoke of their mutual attraction, letting their kisses and touches do the speaking for them, not knowing any words but the heretical and off-color slang to describe how they felt.

But Archie shook his head. He trembled, and for a moment Horatio thought he might have another of his fits. But Archie just shook his head. “No… not just that. It’s…” His eyes flew open. He met Horatio’s deep gaze and must have seen something in it, because he continued on bravely. “That feeling of desire is never so strong in me as it is when I hear a sneeze.”

Horatio did not understand. What Archie said made no sense. And, yet, he felt Archie’s hand take his, closing around the damp handkerchief. And he felt Archie push in close, his erection hard against Horatio’s leg. And maybe he still did not understand what Archie meant, but he understood what Archie nodded. He pulled his hand free and plunged it, handkerchief and all, into Archie’s trousers.

Part III

“Stop, stop.” Horatio pulled back before it had even begun, and Archie tried to hide his crestfallen expression. Somehow he had known this was too good to be true. The timing, the agreeability, the privacy… these are all things Archie had never even dreamed of having, that had been at his disposal for one glorious moment only.

Hornblower, a man who was always careful with his words and even more careful with his promises, had agreed to sneeze for him. The Indefatigable was docked for a few days for resupply, and most of the officers as well as some of the crew who could be trusted to not desert, had been granted shore leave. Between them, he and Horatio had just enough money for warm meals and a room at an inn that stood as far from the docks as possible. It was unlikely they would encounter anybody from the ship, least of all a certain older midshipman who would thrust them into perpetual misery for all time if he’d known of this.  For Hornblower, who always had the cleverest of ideas, had been the one who had suggested this as their opportunity to discover the extent of Archie’s inclination.

But with just the word ‘stop,’ their adventure was over. Archie’s chance was gone, his ship sailed. Apparently, he was as unlucky in this as he was in all other elements of his life.

He stared down at the pepper mill, which began to blur before his eyes. Archie turned his head, hoping Horatio would not see the tears welling up behind his eyes. He felt compelled to say something, whether it were a simple reassurance or even to just excuse himself from the room so he could be alone in his mortification. But it was Horatio who rose to his feet. Archie wanted to call out or reach out to stop him, but he felt too numb. So he let the man go.

Horatio walked not to the door but over to the bed. It wasn’t sturdy enough for them both, so they had settled on the floor of the room. He stripped the bed of its blanket and returned, draping it around Archie’s shoulders. “You’re shaking.” It was warm in the room, a fire blazing in the nearby hearth, so the shaking could not have been from a chill, still, the blanket would be a comfort. Horatio took a deep breath, craning his neck, trying to get a good look at the man. “Archie, if you would prefer we not do this after all, there’s no shame in saying so. We could always choose a good night’s rest over…”

Archie’s head jerked back, eyes wide. “You mean you’d still like to do this?”

Horatio’s expression softened. “Of course I would.”

Feeling strength and reassurance at the man’s words, Archie nodded. “Then let’s try. Before I do lose my nerve.”  

They had looked for flowers, naturally, but none were to be found in this part of the world at this time of the year.  And it wasn’t as though Horatio could catch a cold by sheer strength of will, though goodness knew if it could be done, the courageous and resourceful Horatio Hornblower would find a way to do it. So after much discussion and speculation, they had decided to try some pepper.

Horatio ground out a small pile of it onto Archie’s hand. Then he slowly exhaled, loosening his shoulders, rocking his head from side to side. He bent over and touched his nose to Archie’s hand, inhaling deeply. For a moment, it seemed like this might do the trick. Archie watched Horatio get a familiar, faraway look in his eyes. He saw the man’s nose twitch and wrinkle. And he saw the man’s chest puff up with a big breath. But then Horatio started snorting and coughing. Tears formed in his eyes as his body shook with the violent reaction to what didn’t belong in his nose.

Archie quickly put the handkerchief to his nose, signaling him to blow. Archie rubbed the back of Horatio’s head as he did so, feeling responsible and sorry. He quickly wiped his hand on the blanket, resolving not to try that again. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Take all the time you need. Can I get you another hanky?”

When it seemed Horatio had expelled the last of the irritant, Horatio slumped to the side, resting his head on what passed for a thin, lumpy mattress in this establishment. “I’m all right,” Horatio said, not sounding the least bit convincing.

Between Archie shaking from nerves and Horatio reacting badly to the pepper, Archie was just about to call the whole thing off. But then Horatio’s arm shot up, seizing the even lumpier bed pillow. He tore it open at the seam and pulled out a feather. To his credit, he did not hesitate for a single moment before plunging the tip of the feather into his nose. He wiggled and twirled it for perhaps a second, maybe two. Then he pulled it out. His eyes closed, his mouth drew down into a frown, and his body swayed backward with a sharp gasp in. Then a “heyyeppttttshhhhhhhh!” sneeze out.

For a moment, Archie thought he had died. He could not breathe. He did not move a muscle. He was not even aware of his heart beating. It was as if he had died and this was Heaven.

Then it happened once more, without any further teasing. “eh HEPTShhhuhhh!

Horatio opened his eyes, cautious optimism in his expression. “Well? How was that?”

Archie nodded wordlessly. His mouth had gone dry.

“Was that what you wanted?” A quick glance down at Archie’s lap proved it was. Horatio smiled. “My dear Archie…” He leaned forward and kissed the man’s cheek with all his affection before placing the end of the feather into Archie’s hand. “Then I believe it is your turn. Do with me what you will.” He flared his nostrils invitingly. “I am entirely at your disposal.” Then, more softly, “I am yours.”  

And Archie, who was absolutely certain now that he had died and arrived in his version of Heaven, still managed to lift his hand and slide the tip of the feather into one of Hornblower’s nostrils. Clutching it between thumb and forefinger, he gave the feather a twirl.